Media: Double Standards - 'There's no ceiling to the growth of digital media'

Two online media strategists discuss the dangers of digital tokenism, the need for a universal currency and the medium's growth potential.

ED LING - STRATEGY DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR, I-LEVEL

- How well equipped are non-specialists to offer digital solutions to clients' needs?

It's a bit hit and miss. Each non-specialist has a different set of services from the next one. For clients where digital marketing channels are not (yet) too important or business-critical, a non-specialist may well be good enough to meet that client's needs. A digital specialist, by definition, is totally focused on maximising the returns from digital marketing.

- Are clients taking the medium more seriously?

The IPA's Bellwether Report tells us that they are. More than three years of consistent budget growth has seen online budgets overtake radio, outdoor and cinema, with websites becoming central to many clients' business plans.

- Does online need a common currency?

No, our trading currencies are fine (impressions, clicks, sales etc). What we need is a planning currency to allow consistent planning across different audiences and to enable easy cross-media comparability.

- Is the medium capable of more growth or is it reaching its zenith?

There is no ceiling to the medium's growth because it is the medium that is eating all the other ones. Radio, outdoor, TV, cinema, maybe even print one day. Pretty much all major media will become digital or, to be more specific, will be delivered via the internet.

- Is there room for improvement in the quality of the creative?

There are already some outstanding examples of strong creativity in online advertising. However, it is still too patchy and suggests that most digital creative agencies still need to put planning at the centre of their creativity.

- Do traditional agencies take digital seriously enough and is it more often than not an idea tacked on to a conventional campaign?

They don't. Most (not all) creative agencies are still staffed with creative departments who came into the industry to make TV ads and most media agencies are still based on remuneration structures that can't support good digital work.

- Is there enough talent residing in specialist agencies and do you need to do more to attract talent away from traditional agencies?

There's plenty of talent in specialists, thanks. And we are always open to great TV/radio/print media people jumping from their sinking ships. Please send to jobs@i-level.com.

- What is your all-time favourite online campaign and what made it successful?

Mini ("a Mini adventure" and "counterfeit commission"). For why, see below.

- How can you stop consumers viewing online ads as a nuisance?

Advertising 101. Put the ads on websites where the right audience is; don't interrupt their viewing, enhance it; make the ads entertaining/amusing or at least easy to get.

- What will be the biggest thing to happen to your industry in 2006?

A universal planning currency.

- What was the most exciting trend to hit your industry last year?

More traditional agencies getting into digital.

KEVIN MURPHY - PLANNING DIRECTOR, ZED MEDIA

- How well equipped are non-specialists to offer digital solutions to clients' needs?

It has been too easy for non-specialists to simply save some residual budget and pass it on to specialists and say: "Give me a bit of online." The penny should be dropping that online is growing too quickly to dismiss any more. Non-specialists need to equip themselves with digital knowledge or risk becoming a dinosaur.

- Are clients taking the medium more seriously?

With any life-cycle there are innovators and there are laggards. Acquisition-focused clients in industries such as financial services instantly took digital seriously. Many retail and FMCG clients still need to move from their comfort zones.

- Does online need a common currency?

To develop online's potential, a common currency that allows a confident reach and cost-per-thousand comparison between all media is required.

- Is the medium capable of more growth or is it reaching its zenith?

This is a horrendous task in itself, but there are further issues within just online. There are many vested interests that need to be overcome for the greater good of the industry for real movement to be made.

- Is there room for improvement in the quality of the creative?

More growth. Technology and affordability will increase the audience and make online more attractive to brands. However, to get retail and FMCG clients truly on board, the issue of a common currency will need to be addressed and there isn't a simple solution. Of course. I would say the same for TV, radio and press. Online is no different.

- Do traditional agencies take digital seriously enough and is it more often than not an idea tacked on to a conventional campaign?

Zed plans equally across 15 different channels on- and offline, so we have never been guilty of tacking on digital. Other traditional agencies have fallen into that trap. Long-term, I expect most digital-only companies to be acquired or run out of business by the big boys.

- Is there enough talent residing in specialist agencies and do you need to do more to attract talent away from traditional agencies?

There's not enough talent and too many specialist agencies are headhunting inexperienced people for senior positions on over-inflated salaries and that's bad for clients. We have digital people and traditional people working in the same team so everyone develops multimedia skills. This addresses both issues.

- What is your all-time favourite online campaign and what made it successful?

Being a music fan, I really enjoyed UIP's Hustle and Flow campaign with Choice FM. A great success that proved online works best when properly co-ordinated with offline media to engage consumers.

- How can you stop consumers viewing online ads as a nuisance?

When the right message gets to the right people in an entertaining, engaging way, the ad will not be seen as a nuisance.

- What will be the biggest thing to happen to your industry in 2006?

I can't wait to see if the new Windows Vista system lives up to Microsoft's hype. If it does, then the role of digital in the home will be revolutionised.

- What was the most exciting trend to hit your industry last year?

The emergence of online as an effective brand medium.

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