Putting the marketing into digital

Dela campaign
Getting your Trinity Audio player ready…
Chloe Markowicz at DMF. Photo by Helena Van Leeuw
Chloe Markowicz at Digital Marketing First. Photo by Helena Vanleeuw

Digital marketing conferences are hardly rare. But the recent Digital Marketing First in Brussels was an opportunity (for me at least) to get a feel for the fast-moving market.

First off, this was a busy day for most of the participants. The visitors had a non-stop selection of presentations to choose from, with the inevitable rush on heavyweights such as Facebook. A quick run around the stands revealed a lot of people huddled in discussion. Talking with people such as Invisible Puppy – now present in three countries – confirmed the overall impression: it’s a good time to be a digital agency.

What were the participants talking about? Globally, this was a conference about stuff. Most of the exhibitors could be broken down into either suppliers of specific tools (such as Fingerapps for sales forces, the Anais online business methodology, Tapptic and LikeBoost) or agencies that coordinate all these.

Where were the advertising agencies?

It is noteworthy that not one single advertising agency was present. I’m not sure why. Some of the large digital agencies are clearly positioning themselves as the new advertising agencies and seem to be gobbling up clients. By excluding themselves from the digital debate, the advertising people are leaving the market open to fast-talking agencies with technology on their side.

And let’s not forget that digital agencies are accountable in ways that advertising agencies can only dream about. It is easy to define goals in terms of traffic or clicks and see if a digital agency achieves the targets. It is far more difficult to do this with traditional media.

Dela campaign
Dela: Creating emotion, marketing through digital

What’s the danger?

The danger with all this, however, is that although the mechanics of connecting brands and people are terribly exciting for brands and digital vendors, they remain mechanical.

By contrast, Chloe Markowicz of Contagious gave an overview of this year’s Cannes Lions winners. It almost managed to bring tears to the public’s eyes not once but twice. The first was the Dove Real Beauty campaign, which everyone has seen by now but remains compelling in its simplicity and execution. The second was Ogilvy & Mather Amsterdam’s remarkable Dela campaign for funeral insurance.

…the talking point was not the technology, it was the story

What struck me was that these were very concept-driven campaigns. Both are basically people in front of a camera. In the first, the emotion is very contained but present nonetheless. The Dela campaign positively overflows with emotion, but in a more spontaneous way.

Both campaigns then used new media abundantly to connect with people. But the talking point was not the technology, it was the story.

With all due respect to the digital fraternity – and I’ve fondly watched you grow from an 8-bit gimmick – it is very, very hard for you to develop this sort of impact without a compelling top-line concept.

This is good news for me as a copywriter and all the creatives I see being laid off from advertising agencies. In the short-term, I see an alliance between the digital agencies that can drive traffic and impact and creatives that can create something that people think are actually worth sharing.

Vive le digital.

Who else was there? What did you think? How do you see digital marketing evolving in the short term?

5 responses to “Putting the marketing into digital”

  1. Hi Michael,

    The future isn’t bright – it’s a dull grey with monotone voices expounding the virtues of Google algorithms.

    I too was in attendance at the recent DMF conference in Brussels. As a card-carrying creative from traditional advertising agencies, I couldn’t shake off the feeling that I had somehow miraculously infiltrated enemy territory. Enemy territory in the sense that the digital marketing mantra is dismantling a cherished and well-honed philosophy that creative advertising agencies have been selling their clients for over half a century. Namely – get your customers to love you. But who needs love when you have a mathematician following your customer’s every move online? Cue digital.

    That’s the power of digital: it delivers. It delivers customer journeys that are mappable and quantifiable and ultimately lead to defined sales. All at the touch of a button. In these recessionary times, is it any wonder clients are lapping up whatever digital agencies are feeding them. A marketing manager with empirical data that he or she can deliver to the the greatest empiricist of them all – the company’s chief financial officer. Slam dunk for the digital paradigm one would think. Creatives and creativity should now pack up and go home: surplus to requirements – an ex-parrot.

    Seduction is time-consuming and costly and there is no guarantee that you get the girl in the end. But it’s fun. And fun is what is missing from digital. Clever and successful brands will continue to invest in creativity and telling their brand stories with wit and empathy – regardless of the channels they
    use – digital or otherwise.

    Digital is sold as a panacea for all our marketing ills – but it is just a medium, a platform, a channel, a delivery mechanism – a glistening high-tech book with empty pages. You still need storytellers to write the brand stories. Cue creativity.

  2. Hey, Seán. The obvious answer is that the twain must meet – and do occasionally. I can’t help feeling that we’re just seeing a transfer of power away from the traditional role of advertising agencies to faster, more flexible and more multidisciplinary digital agencies.

    The irony, however, is that they still need that top-level conceptual work – the very thing that ad agencies and creative cookies like yourself come up with. The need for that will never go away no matter what channel is used!

    Onwards and upwards!


  3. Hi Michael,
    I think many creative agencies and many creatives continue to live in a world apart, they didn’t understand the potential of new digital tools and don’t know them thoroughly. I met several advertisers who continue to behave as in the “golden era” of advertising, considering digital agencies as a kind of Cinderella. I think that a synergy between advertising and digital agencies would be a great opportunity for both to grow.

  4. Michela, indeed!

    There is no going back, and I maintain that advertising agencies are still needed to provide the strategic/creative framework while digital agencies are needed to bring this down to a very one-on-one basis using their binary magic. It’s what they both do best respectively. One day, we’ll have to stop talking about “digital” or “new” media and recognize them for what they are: stunning ways of creating relationships. At the end of the day, how we go about that is a little irrelevant.


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