Always on digital? My arse!
A view from Phil Georgiadis

Always on digital? My arse!

Too many marketers and agencies talk about being "always on digital", without realising it can be wasteful, annoying and neglectful of other important media channels, Blue 449's global chairman argues.

It strikes me that we often talk at cross purposes in the advertising industry. Increasingly, language trips us up and conspires against good practice.

It wasn’t that long ago that I started to hear people talk about "programmatic" advertising.

It seemed to come from nowhere.

Most people nodded along as if they knew what it was for fear of being seen to be ignorant and out of touch.

The zealots seemed very confident of its value.

And when Sir Martin Sorrell was calling on the industry to match the time spent on "digital" in our budget allocation to "digital", it was a conspiring accelerator.

Clearly the journey of understanding we have been on since might suggest a little less haste could have helped our industry.

We should have been more questioning of the technique and, more importantly, of its suggested benefits.

And as for the "time spent" argument let’s hope we can move on.

The term I am increasingly aware of is "always on digital".

I see it on advertiser pitch briefs and in media agency presentations.

I’m not sure where it originated. Maybe it was from the IAB trade marketing team.

I wonder if we have a collective understanding of "always on digital".

Thanks to the work of Binet and Field for the IPA, I think most people acknowledge the need for a mix of brand-building and brand activation ... the precise mix dependent on the specific advertiser and the category it operates within.

And in light of the micro-targeting afforded by data-infused digital channels, it feels like we have a great opportunity to become more personalised and relevant.

A balanced mix of collective and personal media moments for a brand feels like a good ambition. But I worry that "always on digital is becoming a proxy for activation. 

Two immediate big questions emerge: What is and isn’t digital in this context? And is digital media the only way to activate?

I don’t plan to answer these questions here. My issue is more specific about language.

It’s the "always on" bit that is bothering me. Because it implies constant visibility, a permanent presence, a wall of brand exposure.

In media planning "always on" is a bold claim but seems now to be applied to the use of the media regardless of the size of budget or the nature of the plan.

When Ariel bought 6,000 TVRs annually on ITV in the 1980s and people watched linear TV with no means of ignoring the ads or when Gallagher bought their out-of-home holdings to sell Benson & Hedges cigarettes, I think they could argue they delivered "always on".

Or when Carphone Warehouse used radio or Dixons spent in national newspapers, they were always on, always in, always there.

It required big budgets and focus. Or, in most cases, the sacrifice of several media for a domination of one.

"Always On" advertising delivered rolling awareness that drove both salience and sales – the double whammy.

But we can’t replicate that model today.

The way people consume media and as well as their expectation of brands have changed and they won’t tolerate relentless frequency. And anyway we can’t afford to deliver it anyway at scale.

"Always on digital " bothers me.

It is just casually used as a way to explain a line on a plan and, in the purest sense, I am not sure anyone actually delivers it – or should even aspire to being "always on"

Some advertisers  buy excessive frequency against certain segments. That’s just "always annoying".

This "always on" ambition for paid digital media feels counter-intuitive.

If my daughter’s bedroom light is ‘’always on’’, there’s nothing good about that.

Piers Morgan’s tweets are "always on". Nothing good about that either.

"Always on" is either wasteful or annoying.

And digital media promises to be less wasteful and more relevant.

We need to be smarter.

I am going to put a sensor light in my daughter’s bedroom. When it senses she is coming it will turn on and then it will turn off when she leaves.

Isn’t that what data-driven, smart planning on digital should be about?

So I appeal to our industry to banish the term "always on".

In an era of transparency, it’s misleading and doesn’t promise what it might have once delivered.

Phil Georgiadis is global chairman of Blue 449 and UK chairman of Publicis Media