Close-up: Is it about time we dropped 'digital'?

What was once an agency defining term appears to have been made redundant.

Judges returning from the Cote d'Azur seemed to view this year's Lions Festival as something of a watershed event in that some found themselves contemplating the thought that "digital" might have lost its use as a distinction in defining agencies and their creative work.

Their thoughts seem to have been provoked by just 12 of the 83 Cyber Lions awarded coming from so-called "digital" specialists. The vast majority came from agencies from varying backgrounds, surely a sign that digital has entered the mainstream. Others argue that digital should become redundant as a phrase because it has become synonymous, in the agency world at least, with web-based activity. Nigel Walley, the managing director of the consultancy Decipher, said in a letter in last week's Campaign that "to call a web agency a 'digital' agency is a dangerous conceit".

He argues that this is a dangerous use of the word especially because the evolution of TV, with its new and various formats (from targeted advertising to pre-roll spots on video-on-demand services), means that the medium has become complex and no longer fits the "nice traditional versus digital structure the industry likes to work in".

Walley asserts that agencies - creative and media - will need to restructure to reflect this and that "traditional" agencies will need to fully embrace these new opportunities rather than leaving them to the "digital", or web-based, specialists. On the other side of the fence there is a strong assertion from the "digital" agencies that the term, in relation to themselves and the work they do, is actually redundant and that they should all be thinking of themselves as integrated ideas generators.

And this is as much an issue for media agencies as it is for creative. The rise of specialist digital media agencies and digital departments in media agencies has meant that web-based activity - and anything else linked to new technology - has often been planned and traded separately from the main TV and press deals.

So that in many agencies, TV options such as interactive red or green button activity or online video formats are in danger of seeming an afterthought and not part of what could be a holistic view of the medium.

However, some agencies seem to be becoming increasingly aware of this. The award-winning T-Mobile work from Saatchi & Saatchi (with MediaCom handling the media) demonstrates what can be achieved when an agency takes an integrated approach where "digital" is not regarded as somehow separate to the rest of the campaign.

And structures at agencies are also being adapted. The Havas agency MPG, for instance, has created integrated units in "audio" and TV that bring web-based and other "digital" activities into the same space as conversations about traditional broadcast advertising. Other media agencies, including MediaCom, have collapsed separate buying departments for TV and press and established teams based around clients. That said, however, it seems that in the minds of one extremely important constituency, the clients themselves, the term "digital" still has plenty of life in it yet and is sometimes seen as a benefit.

MPG still retains a separate digital specialist brand, Media Contacts, to handle planning and buying in the online space. Its managing director, Paul Frampton, says: "What we've found in the past few months is that clients still want to see specialist skills."


"In Cannes, I saw signs of what we've been espousing for the past three or four years - a move upstream and taking on integrated and above-the-line work.

"Digital has not gone away but has been subsumed into everything and has changed everything. All media has had to adapt and embrace this.

"Creativity and craft skills have gone through the roof and to simplify things a bit we've always called ourselves an ad agency that can deploy ideas."


"I've never liked the word digital used as it was but, until recently, it hasn't really mattered. To me, the recent T-Mobile work seems a precursor of a post-digital creative approach to things so we're looking for the mainstream creative agencies to restructure around this stuff.

"We need to move away from being distracted by technology and I think in the future we'll have agencies who can do 'fame' or data-driven agencies who can bring the web together with things like direct marketing and e-commerce to create data-centric campaigns."


"We dropped the digital from the Dare name back in 2003 because we wanted to be recognised for the power of our ideas, not for working in a channel.

"Digital is not a discipline or a channel, it is everywhere and ubiquitous. It still has some relevance as a term to help define a mindset rather than a channel - this is a mindset about 'doing' rather than 'saying'.

"It's OK to say we're a marketing agency for the digital world but it can be overused as a term to describe an agency."


"The word digital has evolved out of online. It encapsulates to me the world of the old and new coming together and we're not quite sure what to call this yet so it is useful in this sense.

"We're trying to make the best of both worlds and that's why we've introduced a new (integrated) model. We have an audio integration unit because with the likes of Spotify it isn't all about radio anymore and, in TV, things like online video are going to be at the core of what the medium does.

"The hope is that in 18 months' time, everybody here will be well versed in talking about this."