Say Good-bye to Digital
The success story of digital agencies has been nothing but stunning over the last ten years. But the role they play is not for long. Just when we got used to the digital shop as a necessary part of the team, it’s time to say goodbye.
To understand why the rise and fall of “digital” is a necessity, it helps to understand why “digital” was invented at all. It was – of course – a marketing tool to eke out a relevant place in the client’s mindset. 10 years ago, “campaign making” was solidly owned by traditional agencies, while “relationship management” was firmly in the hands of direct marketing agencies. Thus the most promising way for young agencies to gain relevance was not by claiming one of those functions but by owning the expertise in the new digital forms of execution. Their USP:
“Nobody can do ads in the digital channel like we do. ”
And the digitals were right. To their big frustration, and despite continuous scoffing, the traditional agencies did not “get” digital. Neither how it works, nor how it’s produced. So the digital agencies picked up business. Lots of it. They did so on top of the traditional budgets in the first half of the decade, and of course heavily at the expense of the regular account holders in recent years.
It was all fine and dandy, as long as digital wasn’t on the client’s main agenda. Despite all the revolutionary rhetoric of the digitals’ self-marketing, they were sitting pretty in a safely profitable spot, growing at a fast clip making material for a “channel” without much real responsibility for the brand.
However, the more successful that “channel” became, the more obvious it was, that it wasn’t a channel at all. To be fair, a lot of people noticed; but the clients didn’t care.
Until 2008. When the economic crisis started to build momentum, clients finally took a serious holistic look at their ad budget from a top level. And for the first time, digital agencies were dancing on the main stage. As they moved up the attention ladder, they soon received their first real shots at becoming brand leaders. It was theirs to prove not only that traditional agencies “don’t get digital” but also that digital agencies “got brand”.
However, most digital shops have failed to do so. One only needs to read the laments on the creative social blog to feel the deep disappointment that the world has not changed into a paradise of fantastic one-off online experiences.
We now know this: Digital – conceived as a channel – cannot lead a brand. But by the same token, non-digital can not lead anymore either. And all of a sudden, both traditional agencies and digital agencies find themselves in the same race: To be the “next agency”.
A race neither of them is well prepared for. But forget the scrambling agencies, they’re not even half as freaked-out as their clients, who all of a sudden are longing for the days when they knew that 50% of their budget was a waste, but the other 50% reached millions. It is their desire to find new footing, that is fueling the “big race” for the next agency.
If digital is conceived of as the new ecosystem of brand communication, who will have the ability to lead?
Definitely someone for whom the word “digital” is about as noteworthy when talking about advertising, as the world “color” is for my parents when they talk about television. They just don’t.
Digital advertising is dead. Long live advertising.