Digital: Is it Time to Call a Spade A F@cking Shovel?

Digital: Is it Time to Call a Spade A F@cking Shovel?

In his latest post, B&T’s favourite industry contrarian, Robert Strohfeldt, argues the word “digital” is clouding and confusing too many aspects of advertising and its outcomes…

Just looked at another of the many “online” advertising/marketing papers I receive. There are so many, I can’t keep up. You would think traditional media is no longer relevant, as all articles are on digital. Digital First has been the catch cry for some time now.

If you want to have some fun, ask the next person you meet who claims to be a digital marketer/advertiser, “what does digital mean.?”

Any mass marketer who ignores traditional media, does so at their peril. I am not saying to ignore digital media. But consumers don’t differentiate between “traditional” and “new” and neither should we. They are all possibilities and the best combination will be determined by the product or service you are selling, your target market, objectives and budget. Not some imaginary divide between “new” and “old”.

The following quotes sum up the thinking of many of today’s marketers, though to be called a marketer today, you only need to be a couple of months out of puberty and a few weeks experience in any area remotely associated with a marketing function.

“Instead, I believe we will continue to see the rise of a new breed of more entrepreneurial, multi-disciplinary groups that were forged in the digital age and that can prove to clients that they can truly bring together the right mix of specialist capabilities, around a compelling strategy and creative framework, in a flexible and agile way and to drive business results”

(So entrepreneurial that the Australian Chamber of Commerce has just approached GetUp, a left-wing anti-business group, to ask them how to develop effective campaigns. Obviously Australian business is chock full of people with the right mix of specialist capabilities to develop compelling strategies and a creative framework to drive business results. Oh yeah, in a flexible and agile way.)


“Having a global agency master brand such as Publicis won’t address the fact most of its creative assets are legacy agencies, poorly equipped for the digital world”

So many buzz words, so little useable information.

Back to the digital articles. Many have one thing in common – written by IT people (it’s a digital world they all say), most of whom wouldn’t know what real marketing is if it bit them on the backside. This is a tad unkind. I have met and worked with some very clever and highly valuable people working in digital. But they all have one thing in common- broad experience across all mediums.  They have worked in the industry prior to the explosion of digital madness.

Marketing and communications have disintegrated into a wide range of mutually exclusive tactical initiatives – “I’m an expert on Influencers”. “I’m an expert on social media”. “I’m an expert in digital advertising” etc. The new age marketer is incapable of looking at all possibilities and bringing them together into a strategic plan.

Though quick to criticise “legacy creatives”, they don’t seem to grasp the simple concept that their area of specialty is just another medium or platform.  A genuinely good creative person knows each medium or platform is used differently and hence designs the execution accordingly.

Yet there is still crap written about “legacy creatives” being obsolete.

In another article, a reader asks: “My website traffic has doubled but my sales haven’t changed?”

The solution – do A/B testing and look for more effective headlines, copy and layouts. (Another topic, but in the hands of anyone who doesn’t truly understand maths, A/B testing is like giving a teenage lad a bottle of scotch, a joint and the keys to a Porsche).

A classic example of morons taking over. Assume a press ad resulted in a huge uplift in enquiry, but no increase in sales, would you think it is the creative or the product that is the problem?

So, it is a website, rather than a press ad. No bloody difference. Have they ever heard of the 4Ps (or 7Ps or 27.65Ps), there is more to marketing than promotion? As abstract as it may sound to the modern digital marketer, but the product itself has some bearing on how well, or poorly, it sells.

The advice from this idiot is even if your product is a piece of shit, get the “advertising” right and it will sell.

I started my career as a mathematician and somehow ended up in advertising.  One thing it taught me – creative expression cannot be formularised. Well, it can, but it is predictable and boring. When IBM wins the Academy Award for Best Script Writer or Best Director, I will concede. (Not likely. Even if it is possible, I will have been dead for 500 years).

And the term Big Data is a joke. Astro-physics produces Big Data, marketing producing volumes of guff. Quality is far more important than quality. Marketing is producing more and more useless data, which ultimately makes the useful gems harder to find. (IBM recently estimated 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are produced everyday and 80 per cent of the data available was generated in the past two years).

As for all the whining about privacy, it has always been true the more you know about your target the better.  Gathering information on consumers has been occurring since marketing began. Since the dawn of commerce, business has been continuously striving to better understand customers to better serve them and gain a competitive advantage.  Technology has just taken this to a new level.

But if taken too far, it creeps people out. No one likes to be stalked.  “Know enough about me to give me what I want when I want it.  But don’t stalk and annoy me with products and services some computer has determined I will like.”

Isn’t it about time we stopped using the term digital?  Time to abandon some artificial, arbitrary divide and go back concentrating on strategy and creative.

TV is digital today. Everything is digital. Digital computers were first developed in the 1930s and analogue computers were obsolete by the late 80’s. No denying PCs have come a long way, but we have been in the “digital age” for many years.

I wasn’t around when radio first came in, but I wonder if everyone raved “It’s all electrical today”?

Technology has placed a greater emphasis on the need for outstanding creative as it is far harder to reach consumers and much easier for them, in many ways, to switch off. Creative by formula is not going to resolve this. And neither will producing more and more “content”. Being time poor is a major issue (has been for decades), yet there is a rush to produce more and more “content”, much of it mediocre at best.

Everyone is agreeing with each other about “digital is the future” and then saying they have a secret formula. (Sorry, algorithm.) As advertisers, our role is to put relevant and compelling messages to our target market.  And these messages need to be empathetic to the medium in which it is carried. The only change has been in the number and type of mediums or platforms. Radio is different to TV and Facebook is different to outdoor which is different to Twitter. What a huge discovery! Einstein must be rolling over in his grave thinking “Why the fuck didn’t I think of that?” (He did swear a bit I hear).

There are two ways to raise revenue – subscription and advertising. (Product placement helps but will never be the sole earner.)

With a P:E of 173:! Netflix, just as Spotify did, will not be able to rely solely n subscription – if they do, it will have to increase many, many times over. Foxtel charges close to $100 a month for a decent package and at times there are as many ads in a programme as Free to Air TV.

Internet TV will face the same issues. Advertising will survive. But we will have to be more judicious where and how we do it. People are inundated with advertising and switch off.

In the past 15 years there has been an explosion in the number of conduits to the consumer, though some are not as well suited as others to carry commercial messages, irrespective of how many people use it.

How many landlines were there worldwide by the 1980’s? And what did we end up with to best take advantage of it? Telemarketing. (Everyone is a marketer. Say to a “telemarketer” it is just phoning people, bugging them when they are wanting to have dinner to try and sell to them and they go nuts).

Advertising was once all about the message. Creativity has taken a back seat to media, data and technology groupies.

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    1. Interesting read Robert ! In my opinion i don’t want to worry too much about whether its digital or not. The world is connected and its a multi channel world. You could use any form of creative expression – to ‘effectively’ reach your consumers and thats key. We want to call it Digital or not, it really doesn’t matter. The fundamentals never changed. The consumer touch points exploded and technology enabled newer forms of creative experiences to be built…

    2. It is human nature to classify – look at the periodic table, plants and animals go all the way down to genus and species, so agree with you there.
      But there never was “The TV Guy” in agencies. It was Account Service, Creative and Media. All creative was pooled together. (You had to be able to work in all areas). The divide made sense initially, but it becomes a business problem after 20 years to not just keep talking, but acting on a divide that doesn’t exist.

    3. Having spent 25 years in digital, I’ve always seen it as a horizontal rather than a vertical skill.

      However just as ad agencies had the ‘TV guy’ (and yes it was a guy) back in the 1960s-1980s who specialised in that medium, it is taking about the same period of time for the ‘digital marketing folks’ to lose the digital & simply be recognised as ‘marketing folks’.

      This isn’t a bug, it’s a feature of humans. We like to label and tribalise, we treat new things with suspicion & take a long time to normalise the new new.

      I’d be happy to see the tag ‘digital’ disappear in a recognition that it’s all part of the same marketing mix, and it will, with time. However it’s not a problem unless you make it one.

Digital Robert Strohfeldt

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