Digital gone to far (image from Videodrome)

Every time I hear marketing people use the word “digital,” and indeed I use it myself, I keep going back to something Rishad Tobaccowala wrote in his excellent essay, Four Thoughts on the Future of Advertising: “The world might be digital but people are analog.”

He gives plenty of texture around the comment (how agencies overcompensate for various deficiencies by stressing digital, etc.) but one can take the comment at face value and still glean plenty, especially in the wake of Steve Jobs’ recent passing.

From day one, Jobs understood how much technology depended on the human touch, figuratively and literally. And that if there were a one-word catchall it wouldn’t be “digital” but rather “design.” And design, Jobs said, was not merely how good something looked but how well it worked.

To him (and for us), Digital was more than just tools but extensions of our limbs and imaginations. Not hardware and software. Lifeware. Sight, feel and now voice are the operating principles that drive Apple. Not “technology solutions,” a phrase, like the word digital, that couldn’t sound more inhuman if it tried.


Jobs introduces iPad. More than hardware and software…
Lifeware!

Oh, the irony! For the last decade or longer we marketing geniuses have gone great guns trying to bolster our digital creds, doing everything in our power to look savvy, often at the expense of working savvy. We learned the hard way that flashy microsites were likely meaningless to our client’s businesses. That hundreds of thousands of views on You Tube often meant winning a popularity contest without any prize. That brands aren’t social just because they’re on Facebook and Twitter. And so on…

The costs have been tremendous. To us and to our clients. But make no mistake clients are as culpable as we are. The clamoring for digital came from all corners. I’d argue that social media (another tetchy term) has exploded the myth of digital, reminding us Tweet by Tweet that people are and always will be living, breathing, human beings; in other words: analog.

However painful the learning curve, for Adland this is good news. Agencies are at their best when we put ideas before clients and, dare I say, technology.

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