Clinton Manson
Aug 19, 2013

Digital is traditional

Why do trends indicate the vessel is more important than the content it contains?

Clinton Manson
Clinton Manson

There is no doubt the digital age has also transformed the advertising industry. New media means ad space costs are marginal, content can re-produced in high volumes, ads can be interactive, and every facet of a campaign is measurable. Therefore, specialist digital agencies have emerged on the premise that traditional, long-established players just don’t get it.

AdAge DataCenter reported that digital agencies are growing 40 per cent faster than ad agencies. In an analysis of Agency Report 2013 data from nearly 1,000 agencies, they calculated that digital revenue accounts for one third of all US communications spending.

The writing is on the ________________________ .

What’s more important, a crisp white page, or the words written on it? Compared to inscribing on rocks or scrawling hieroglyphs on to papyrus, a smooth absorbent chemically bleached surface is easier to write on, and can make the message clearer. But surely, it’s not nearly as valuable as the communication itself. 

From ancient philosophers to modern-day newspaper CEOs, most thinkers agree that the content is more important than its container. Without a good idea, your communication won’t work, regardless of the medium. 

Bill Gates coined one of the most overused phrases of the decade back in 1996: Content is King! “Those who succeed (in the digital world) will propel the Internet forward as a marketplace of ideas, experiences, and products—a marketplace of content,” he said. 

More recently, Tom Curley, CEO of the Associated Press, said in a speech, "The franchise is not the newspaper; it’s not the broadcast; it’s not even the Website. The franchise is the content itself. Content will be more important than its container."

Even with all these quotes from people far smarter than I could ever pretend to be, many marketing and advertising leaders choose to cling to a security blanket stitched together with ignorance, fear and arrogance—blind to the reality that digital or traditional, it’s the concept that counts.

Knowledge is useless unless it’s applied.

It’s disturbing to see the results of a recent study that suggests data and technology skills are considered more important than advertising/agency experience. The Economist Intelligence Unit conducted a global survey of 389 marketing executives. When asked to choose the top three skills most important for CMOs to have, 27 per cent of respondents included data-driven analytical capability, but only 13 per cent listed agency experience.

If that’s the case, why are so many traditional ad agency ECDs being headhunted by digital agencies? AdAge author Alexandra Bruell remarked “Digital shops are eager to beef up their traditional creative chops, while creative shops are on a never-ending quest to make sure they're up to speed when it comes to digital.” 

The agencies with the best talent have the most important tool of all: the ideas that make a campaign great. JWT Asia Pacific CEO Tom Doctoroff  believes that: “It's 'Back to the Future' time.  Smart marketers are finally realizing that without the unifying power of well-crafted and clearly defined ideas, chaos reigns across an exploding array of media. Technology must be harnessed to amplify, not as a substitute for, the power of great ideas.”

Final note: advice to those looking for a new ad partner.

It’s 2013 and digital media isn’t new anymore. Whether an agency is labelled as digital or traditional, to be successful it must have good ideas. So, let’s stop pigeon-holing and get back to basics. In a time where the consumer decides what content they wish to view, ideas are more important than ever. 

Additional references

Clinton Manson is ECD of JWT Bangkok.


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