The Great Digital Madness!

The Great Digital Madness!
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He’s been a little quiet on the columns front of late, but B&T’s favourite industry rabble-rouser, Robert Strohfeldt, is back with his latest musings. This time skewering the hyperbole around digital…

Albert Einstein, one of the greatest “thinkers” of all time, explains the fixation with “Digital”

Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe”.

Can you think of a word more frequently used today than “digital”? This may sound silly at first, but the next time someone uses the word, ask them “what do you mean by digital?” (You won’t have to wait long for the opportunity.) The stunned looks, stammers and eventual answers will be some of the best free entertainment you get this year.

McKinsey have their “definition” which you can read here.

Read it and weep. These guys charge a fortune for this drivel. And they do it with a straight face. Hate to play poker against them. Could never tell when they are bluffing. As well as losing the mantle for “best ideas”, the advertising industry is being “out bullshitted”. Serious cause for concern.

I am sure I am not alone in subscribing to a variety of blogs, newsletter etc to try and stay abreast of what is happening in the wide world of marketing and advertising. But the list just keeps growing. The growth in marketing and advertising “content” has exploded over the past 10 or so years and if you tried to read them all there would be no time left to do any work. (The Digital Tsunami, Digital Economy. Be a Digital Survivor – the only creativity is in the titles.)

And if you do decide to spend some valuable time looking at this rubbish you will find they are not objective and informative. Rather, they are subjective sales pitches – “you have to get onboard/be a digital survivor etc. and here is our latest “whatever” to ensure you are not left behind.” That will be (a shit load) and see you in about 6 months to sell you the updates.

In 1987 at Clemenger we launched (NSW) Lotto Online. But here we are almost 30 years later and every second article, talk, piece of advice etc. is about how you/your business can be digital survivors. Surely, we have passed this point.?

BUT…. Despite endless meetings, seminars and summits no one can seem to agree on a measure for online advertising viewership. I thought long boozy lunches were (unfortunately) a thing of the past. So how the hell did “50% of the ad pixels must load for a minimum of 1 second” make the consideration list? It can be argued the measurement of traditional media had its flaws, but compared to the long, long list of online metrics thrown around, they look as accurate as a nuclear clock by comparison.

Facebook and Google still “mark their own homework”, despite all the questions raised surrounding the performance and efficiency of online advertising, money still pours out of traditional and into online, 90 per cent of which now goes to the Google/Facebook duopoly. In the days of traditional media only, if the various TV and radio stations, newspapers and magazines said to media planers – “these our audience figures, trust us.”, the howls of outrage would be so loud they’d travel into the future and you would still be hearing them. The Google/Facebook duopoly ability to beguile reduces Casanova to Quasi Moto levels by comparison. There is no doubting the effectiveness of Search. The European Commission’s $AUS3.65 billion fine of Google supports this pretty strongly.

Traditional media is no longer the only game in town, but the numbers it provides and its effectiveness are virtually ignored with a myopic “digital first” approach. It becomes a self- fulfilling philosophy. As more money goes online, traditional media struggles to afford quality programming (and journalism) resulting in audiences switch off.

The only “serious” attempt to gauge online effectiveness is Attribution Modelling, which makes Juju look like Nobel prize winning science. As much credibility as Astrology.

Worldwide, the advertising industry’s willingness to jump on board the “digital” bandwagon has extended to our most prestigious event at Cannes. Much was made of an Australian “digital campaign” winning 16 Lions, including one gold –  An AAMI app for learner drivers that does nothing to achieve its intended objective. Our industry publications shout from rooftops how great this win was.

I asked Gene Corbett, one of the leading driving instructors in the country for his thoughts on this App: “It is a great con and incredibly misleading. The same algorithm is readily available from Google and all they are using is the sensors within the phone to track forces.

“So it will not pick up a timid driver, who has little to no planning skills, no defensive driving abilities and low situational awareness.

“All they need to do is keep up with traffic flow and not over act, it will show them as fine.

“Other companies (I think Suncorp is one) use a similar app to track driver behaviour to reduce premiums.”

And the real kicker – it is illegal for a Learner or P Plate driver to have their phone even just switched on whilst driving. So, it won worldwide acclaim for getting people to break the law.

  • Big Data. Good in theory if there are people qualified to do the analysis. Courses abound that pump out data scientists after 12 months part time study. Analogous to a person doing a first aid course and then saying they are a doctor. (And still quantity rules over quality). `
  • Endless Webinars on how to be the next Airbnb, Uber or even Tesla. Evolution of the “How to get Rich” seminars of the 90s. Brad Cooper was a big star. He went from door to door salesman to multi-million -dollar mansion on the slopes of Balmoral in 3 years. He was in huge demand, with desperados lining up to find out the secret to his success. Unfortunately for Brad, The ACCC, ASIC and NSW police found out his “secret” (Bribe the financial controller). He lost his mansion, but he didn’t have to pay for rent or food for 5 years.
  • These “great success stories” not so great when looked at closely. Uber losing money hand over fist, drivers not happy (costs all borne by them), strong competition popping up all over the place. Airbnb strength often attributed to management not from hospitality and hence no “baggage”. In fact, their biggest weakness is lack of hospitality experience. Tesla lost on average $3000 a car last quarter.
  • AI (Artificial Intelligence) is taking the world by storm. Amazing what a name can do. The change from “computer” to “AI” lead many to believe computers “think”, so, why should they?  Sounds contradictory, but technology is dumbing us down.

Above are only a few examples of the information overload and contradictions sweeping the industry. It seems that every second day a new theory on the new consumer and digital is released. It must be incredibly difficult for those starting out in marketing and advertising to know what to believe. And none of this would be possible without Google and Facebook.

The Senate Committee on the Future of Public Interest Journalism gave an insight into how the “digital” future may play out. Neither of the two major players (Google and Facebook of course) could give an accurate estimate of their local revenue. The figures quoted were way less than the actuals – even a primary school maths student could work this out. Content is such a used and abused term. But if you want to attract eyeballs, you need content and then you charge advertisers for those eyeballs. Facebook proudly stated they pay contributors – well some. And those they do, receive around 0.15% of their estimated revenue. Most generous. Globally Facebook has an estimated $34 billion (Australian) annually in revenue for news it “takes” from other media outlets. (Google is no better).

Essentially, the attitude of these two bemouths was “Fuck You”, we are too big for the Australian government to do anything about.

No wonder there is such confusion and much flaky data generated when the two dominant players answer to no one but their shareholders. They have successfully perpetuated the myth they are good corporate citizens. Imagine a world in 50 years where the only media, the cornerstone of democracy, is controlled by these two giants?

The advertising industry has been quick to support causes they believe to be of social benefit. Yet it is their actions, not just here the world over, that have opened the way for a Brave New World dictated by Google and Facebook.

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