Opinion: Perspective - Proving effectiveness is digital's main challenge

It was painful to watch at times, but when Campaign assembled a group of agency chiefs and two high-profile marketers to debate the future of communications, much of the discourse descended into, well, bullying the digital agency representative ("Who Owns The Future?", page 22).

Work Club's Paddy Griffiths fought ably and intelligently, but the fact is that CHI & Partners' Johnny Hornby, Walker Media's Phil Georgiadis and Rapier's Jonathan Stead all revealed an inclination to "put digital back in its box".

It would be tempting to assume that this is because "they don't get digital", that they were "burying their heads in the sand" or other such cliches, but that would be over-simplifying matters. These are some of adland's most experienced, and successful, practitioners. They are not the kind of people to ignore the business opportunity that digital communications offers. Instead, there was a palpable sense of being fed-up with what they perceived as the hype surrounding the rise of digital.

There was a poignant moment in the debate when Walker's Georgiadis stressed that the much-awarded Nike+ was great, but that its communications strategy was relevant to the specific needs of the Nike brand, not the likes of Marks & Spencer or a long list of most FMCG brands you could think of.

An exhausted Griffiths, by the end, was compelled to confess that digital agencies have been forced to shout loudly in order to earn a place at top table; the indication was that hype has been part of a deliberate strategy to speed up the process of becoming an established part of the communications landscape.

This shouting loudly may not have been such a smart move; it has laid the digital advertising industry open to smoke and mirrors accusations that could end up delaying its development, not accelerating it.

Instead, what the industry really needs to focus on, something that became very apparent very quickly in the debate, is proving the effectiveness of online communications.

Philip Almond, Diageo's UK marketing chief, clearly takes the medium very seriously (check out Guinness' or Smirnoff's websites and you will see that the drinks company has invested seriously in digital channels). However, even he regards spend thus far as having been something of an experiment. He took pains to point out that at least he knows what he's going to get with a TV campaign and stresses that there's a necessary, but entirely unpredictable, element of luck involved in launching a successful viral commercial.

The Internet Advertising Bureau needs to get its skates on. There are all sorts of difficulties preventing the speedy application of a recognised online effectiveness measurement scheme, not least that internet advertising is constantly evolving and, therefore, impossible to evaluate. But these must be overcome.

Equally important is the need for digital agencies to work harder at proving the effectiveness of the creative work they produce and the websites they build. For the past three years at least, entries for the IPA Effectiveness Awards from digital agencies have been thin on the ground, and winners non-existent.

Meanwhile, back in the world of traditional media, what a good week for TV advertising this has been. We've got the new Sony Bravia instalment launching, which, if the snippets available through YouTube are anything to go by, is going to be lapped up by consumers and adland alike. And then there's M&C Saatchi's spot to launch Silverjet. The commercial, which apes Saatchi & Saatchi's "face" ad from 1989, will undoubtedly generate lots of PR and sets out some strong brand values for the new airline. When you add Cadbury's "gorilla" spot from Fallon to the mix, you see there's life in the old television dog yet.

- Claire Beale is away. francesca.newland@haymarket.com.

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1 Job description: Digital marketing executive

Digital marketing executives oversee the online marketing strategy for their organisation. They plan and execute digital (including email) marketing campaigns and design, maintain and supply content for the organisation's website(s).