As you know, when our top dogs do digital, it’s usually an exercise in waving willies for the City analysts. And, oh, there have been so many willies, so much waving – but then you don’t spend billions on digital acquisitions just to quietly integrate them into your existing business, simply supercharging what you already do. You spend the billions and then you insist it all equates to a vital, future-proofing radical re-engineering. And you might be right.
Anyway, Bolloré had little interest in peddling digital platitudes. He told delegates at Dmexco that agencies talk too much about digital and technology.
Instead, Bolloré insisted that he doesn’t know – and, more importantly, doesn’t want to know – what percentage of Havas’ business comes from digital. Breaking the business down like that is "nonsense".
Bolloré hasn’t spent billions on digital acquisitions. So, on the one hand, he doesn’t have an expensive digital network or three to shout about – and, arguably, that’s a major weakness. On the other hand, he doesn’t have to try to justify eye-watering digital investments that were overpriced and are beginning to under-deliver.
What Bolloré said instead is that "digital is a tool to make advertising work", adding: "When I read the statements of my peers – our competitors – they say tech and digital is key. But creativity is our core business… we need the best of technology to enhance the creativity. But we need to be proud to be an advertising company. We should not be ashamed. Creativity is key."
It’s a theme much more elegantly articulated by Andy Sandoz, the incoming D&AD president, in his feature this week. Sandoz says technology has numbed advertising’s confidence: "We no longer practise creativity. We codify it. We use technology to justify, democratise and programme ideas" – and, as a result, the idea itself gets crushed. Yet Sandoz says a great tech company sets an idea free, as fast as possible, and sees what happens.
How you get the best, most creative ideas into that tech-fuelled process early on is the challenge most agencies and their holding companies haven’t yet cracked, and won’t do as long as digital is considered something "other".
As a mantra for how it should work, I love Sandoz’s "Breathe in technology and breathe out creativity". But you won’t find many agencies capable of being that truly holistic, and nor will you while it suits the holding company model to see digital as a separate focus.