Thoughts on sobering up from ‘digital’
For some good three years now I’ve been telling myself and everyone who cares to listen why digital is better than advertising etc. And than recently I woke up to post-digital times (thanks Russell, for the very useful term), increasingly disillusioned with what our common notion of ‘digital’ has been developed or rather been reduced to.
My aim is not so much to bust some digiratis’ ideology as it is to try to correct some wrong notions about what we consider to be ‘good’ digital and why there is nothing superior to advertising. What I’m trying to say here is that in post-digital reality (i.e. when ‘digital’ is as almost as prevalent behaviour as air-breathing) the ways in which the digital vs. advertising debate is framed are simply childish, futile and missing the bigger picture.
Firstly, one of the biggest myths or illusions that the mass adoption of ‘digital’ technologies has created is the ‘seismic shift’ from the disruption model of advertising to the engagement model of digital. I talked in these terms myself on numerous occasions but this is simply wrong. Everything that grabs my attention from working and living is disruptive. Our daily lives are full of big and small distractions and disruptions. And everything that gets my attention in a positive way is a good disruption and everything that gets my attention in a negative way is an annoying disruption (think about bumping into someone you know on your way home from work – depends on the person it can be a sweet or sour encounter). In the very same way there are very few brilliant ads that grab our attention – BOTH disrupt AND engage – and there are very few brilliant digital pieces that do exactly the same.
I think that we have mistaken interactivity for engagement in the deeper sense of the word. The fact that some piece of marketing is interactive doesn’t automatically makes it more or less engaging than advertising. Whats really important is, did it make me happy? Has it moved me in any way? Did i enjoy (whatever your idea of joy is) it? Am I inclined to share it with my friends? The most brilliant, award winning digital is just as disruptive as any traditional advertising and I dare you not to say anything about NIKE+ or I’ll scream. If you managed to bring joy to my mundane life you win – and it doesn’t really matter how you did it – people don’t make channel distinctions when it comes to advertising. Magic is magic.
Natural Selection of Interesting (Thanks Laith) in post digital times is totally platform/channel neutral or agnostic.
Advertising is advertising is advertising. Campaigning is campaigning is campaigning. A shtick is a shtick is a shtick.
And let’s admit it: there is (mostly) shit digital stuff just as there is mostly shit TV and print ads. Simply because it’s just damn hard to make something brilliant.
But there are also other questions which to date digital has largely been exempt from asking – does your daring interactive stunt help your client sell more of their shit?
The recent Johnny Rotten campaign for Country Life butter increased their sales by 85%(!) and in my book it’s shit. It would be an easy trap and plain wrong to ask “When was the last time that a digital campaign got any near these numbers?” but it’s also time to stop the digital smugness and the early-adopters-the-future-belong-to-us snobbery because so far we haven’t proposed any better solutions.
Advertising relevancy and effectiveness is in decline and our solution is what? Subservient chicken? Carling iPint? uniqlock? Baloon race? These are all indeed very fabulous shticks but in no way are they any better or worse than Cadbury Gorilla, T-Mobile choreographed flashmob or Dove Evolution. I’m still waiting for a proof that 7 minutes of some interactive shizle is in any way more enjoyable or effective than 30sec TV shtick. There are so many ways to be more interesting, more useful or more fun and digital don’t own any of them.
There’s a huge gap between the blogosphere mostly theoretical chatter about the merits of digital and the reality of marketing – a gap it will take businesses a generation to catch up with. New media marketing truismemes (I just invented a very fine word) are mostly a pile of anecdotal evidences that appeared to be far more prevalent than they actually are or can be. Fueled by enthusiastic yet overhyped, hyperboled conversation that is blinded by self righteousness and the false consensus effect, they get an unreal and unrealistic urgency.
Case in point: The widget economy my arse. Few months ago I’ve been involved in widgets and apps workshop for a client and hardly scraped 5 examples of decent commercial widgets. And for every one of them there are 156K blog posts about brands that need to hop on the widget economy.
Having said that there are clearly several kinds of digital and talking about it in a general way is utterly stupid. It is marketing as a discipline and it’s paradigm, role and purpose that are broken and even the most daring, innovative, interactive piece won’t be able to fix. But digital might be able to offer some solutions other than the new news or first ever shtickness on the web.
Herdmeister best epitomise this point:
The thing is about the new technologies is not that they provide new, more efficient – better targetted or more relevant – messaging opportunities for businesses to exploit, but rather that it connects people to each other and that allows us to see each other (which you will hopefully remember allows us to emulate and thus drives the spread of behaviours and ideas)
The one thing that digital can offer (and is still largely an unrealised opportunity) is to to help brands become more social and more empathic and humane and think about long-term, sustainable relationships with people who give a toss about them (although, again, beware swapping generalisations! – what’s good for O2 is not the solution for Burger King and Cadbury cannot have the same marketing strategy as Nike. sometimes what you need is really just a shtick).
The brands that get it and excel in the reality of the social web are brands like Dell that truly believe that social media is contributing to a significant change that take us from what Richard Binhammer call the “traditional, rational, objective, institutional” perspective to a more “subjective, emotive, personalized and human” perspective. This is the real change, and it has very little to do with advertising – on, off or inside the arse of the line.
naff said. sorry for the long post. please say something.