“We’re digital and you’re not!”

With equal parts frustration and delight, I read Andrew McMains’ article in Adweek about the preponderance of digital-only shops and their growing irrelevance to marketers.

Say what?

For the last ten or fifteen years, advertising agencies have obsessed over digital capabilities, devoting umpteen resources on building and/or purchasing the capability.

Meantime, countless digital shops sprang up, pimping their digital superiority in the marketplace.

Then the agencies started buying the digital shops.

And now it appears those same digital shops are trying to build their own advertising capability.

Once again, I am reminded of the famous Doctor Seuss fable, The Sneetches. In the story, the vain but insecure Sneetches keep placing, removing and replacing stars on their bellies, based on an irrational fear of being, for lack of a better word, uncool. By the end of the story no one in Sneetchland has a clue what is cool anymore.

Substitute the word ‘star’ for ‘digital’ and Sneetches for Agencies and it’s the same story. Yet, the saga ends well for the Sneetches. While it was a painful experience, they eventually come to their senses. Sneetchland is best served by having both. Just like Adland.

As I said: delightfully frustrating.


Note to agencies: We are not alone

For the last few years our agency’s worldwide mandate has been to “put digital at the core” of everything we do. This means exactly what you think it means. Instead of putting digital in a “bucket” or “silo,” and treating it as one of many marketing services, Euro RSCG revolves the company’s universe around it. And within that scheme, we (the employees) have been strongly encouraged to “get social” or get out of town! These directives are elemental to the agency’s primary purpose of “getting us and our clients to the future first.”

A couple weeks back, JWT named its Worldwide Digital Director, David Eastman, North American CEO. Worldwide CEO, Bob Jeffries indicated that this sent a strong message (to clients and competitors) about what direction the agency was going, and that JWT was serious about putting digital at the center of business operations.

As I write this, Ogilvy & Mather Chicago rehired digital ECD, David Hernandez from Tribal DDB. He’ll “provide digital creative leadership across all agency disciplines,” said Joe Sciarrotta, Chief Creative Officer of the agency.

And so it goes, by hook or by crook, ad agencies everywhere are finding ways to make digital their big story: on our creds, in our case studies, in general. Whether this is done via purchase or through internal machinations or both it is getting done. Some of us are doing it faster and better than others. But it’s a crowded field. And the race is far from over.

My point is not to ridicule this any of this. I wholeheartedly support it. What I find interesting is Ad Land’s belief that this is a media centric phenomenon, that the migration of marketing to digital platforms is somehow unique to our industry.

Everyone is putting digital front and center. Be it media, education, insurance, institution, government, finance, retail, CPG, the dry cleaners up the street. One is hard pressed to find any operation that isn’t doing business online, let alone marketing it that way. Some die trying (Pets.com). Some flourish (Amazon). Most are somewhere in between.

One has already heard the call that consumers are taking over the message. Ad Land’s first reaction was just that: a reaction. Born of fear. That somehow we –the creators and drivers of all consumerism- woke up one day and discovered a new landscape, and one where we weren’t needed anymore. That fear drove us to buy, hire and promote digital expertise with breathless abandon. To play catch up if you will.

But is the fear real? No more than it is for any other business. The only difference is somehow we deemed it our mission to re-take that landscape. Or perish. Perhaps we doth protest too much. By overly stating how important digital is to our operations, we demonstrate fear of being left behind.

I’ve said it before: We are all pioneers. The landscape is free country and has been since Al Gore invented it. We need only apply our vast skills (ideation, creation, brand management and so on) in the same direction as everyone else.

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