Perspective - Adland must adapt as clients catch on tojargon

I heard an excruciating phrase last week. An agency told me it is now in the business of "managing the attention economy". It's one of those toe-curling bits of professional blather that seems to trip so neatly off the tongue of anyone who has just returned from a global management meeting.

Of course, the sentiment is absolutely correct. In fact, you can generally assume that the more painful the buzzwords, the more accurately they reflect a real business state. Simply saying "we're trying to make sure these very busy people see your commercial message" doesn't have quite the same professional ring, but the challenge is the same - and as keen as ever.

So clients have come to expect their agencies to be experts in over-blown jargon. For a few more examples take a look at our piece on company mantras on page 12. My personal favourite is Vizeum's old "connectology" - a positioning so utterly meaningless they had to explain it with examples that just dug that hole deeper and deeper. Has there ever been a greater crime committed against the ad business than to describe its people as "smile synthesisers"? Mind you, Starcom is coming up on the outside with "connections that captivate".

Now, the requirement to peddle digital credentials has rocket-fuelled this agency bullshit. In the scramble to claim the digital high-ground, ad agencies and media agencies have got their dictionaries out and are busy rewriting their entire business lexicon. As in: "Enteraction is becoming a key driver in our successful navigation through the attention economy to position our clients' brands in the cultgeist." Expect to hear phrases like this at an Ivy lunch table near you soon.

Mind you, I bet the cockles of the Saatchi & Saatchi chief Kevin Roberts' heart were warmed when evidence finally emerged this week that his frankly faintly ridiculous lovemarks mantra has passed into business currency. Dee Dutta, the head of marketing at Saatchis' new client, Sony Ericsson, has admitted that the brand is trying to create a lovemark to bring Sony Ericsson closer to its consumers. So there is hope yet for those "connections that captivate".

But the real truth is that clients are becoming more and more adept at deconstructing this new digital jargon and working out whether theirs is an agency full of digital hotshots or simply hot air. Take the recent research into adland's digital credentials, conducted by the Haystack Group (page 7). If Haystack's findings are anything to go by, agencies might boast about their "micro-targeting models" and understanding "avatar economics", but advertisers have them sussed. Only 4 per cent of clients are convinced that, beneath the jargon, their advertising agencies are really on top of digital marketing. That's a pretty damning statistic when you consider that more than two-thirds of those same clients also said that digital communications are increasingly playing a key role in their marketing activity.

And put up or shut up time is upon us. With Adidas about to become the first major global brand to sell virtual and real trainers in Second Life, in a deal negotiated by Aegis' Isobar, the future is here.

Actually, jargon aside, all this digital stuff is really quite simple. For example, Second Life offers advertisers an opportunity to reach elusive young consumers in an (as yet) a relatively uncluttered commercial environment. And those consumers are pretty receptive to the idea of suitable brands offering a desirable service. The fact that it is all happening online is no excuse for the invention of a whole new, obfuscating advertising language.

The agencies that know what they're doing in this space will get on and let their work speak for itself. The rest will carry on fiddling with their corporate mantras and spending more effort on looking the business than doing the business. And clients, as Haystack suggests, will keep polishing their bullshit detectors.

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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).