The death of digital should be a relief to ad agencies. They won’t have to expend all that energy persuading clients that, really, really, they are fully equipped to use whatever piece of new comms technology is most appropriate to serve their marketing strategy. And they won’t have to waste any marketing budget on "digital" campaigns that don’t really serve the marketing strategy but make the client and the agency look agenda-setting.
But social media is taking over as the badge of honour that agencies think they need to display as evidence of their progressiveness. It dominates almost every presentation we’ve seen from agencies over the past year or so, despite its questionable contribution to most clients’ sales performance and profits.
Of course, it’s a fantastic tool for some brands as part of a broad marketing mix, even – for some brands – as the keystone for their communications. But we’re still inundated by campaigns built around unengaging social media ideas that wildly (or willfully) over-estimate people’s willingness to take part.
I went into an ad agency recently to hear about its latest work. The agency was proud of one particular social media campaign, which had clearly been something of a battle to get past the client; the language of combat was used.
The client – brand guardian in a low- interest category and obviously less than convinced that social media would drive his sales – finally surrendered and the result was a deeply predictable online competition of the sort you’d have to be particularly odd to want to enter. Predictably, the winner was particularly odd. And most definitely not the sort of consumer the client would wish to have its brand publicly associated with.
This might not have mattered much if the competition had notched up thousands of entries and collected some really useful data along the way. But entries (some multiple ones from obsessive oddballs) were in the low four figures, barely worth the effort involved and almost certainly not worth the fees the agency earned for its time on it.
It is a smart agency, with some real talent, though probably worried that it is a little dull, a little traditional. And I can understand its desire to highlight work that is different to the stuff that it was doing ten years ago.
And, in all of this, the agency is no different from many other agencies in London. But clients will be better served once social media goes the way of digital (or what we used to mean by digital) and becomes a given, a natural part of the mix used where appropriate, rather than something to be put on a pedestal.
Claire Beale is the editor of Campaign
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