Opinion: Perspective - Why are agencies ignoring digital developments?

So, I asked, what do you think of Where are the Joneses?/Katemodern?

It's not a difficult question, but it is a test. An experiment. I asked senior(ish) people who work on some part of the Ford/Orange/Procter & Gamble/Buena Vista/Micro-soft accounts.

Their clients are embedding their brands in these online soap operas (page 10), but not many ad or media agencies seem to have been involved. Still, I reckoned, the agencies should at least know what their clients are up to in the digital space (and have a ready excuse why their agency wasn't at the thick end of the deals). So, what do they think? "Erm," cogs whirred. Yep, they'd sort of heard of WATJ?/Katemodern. No, they hadn't been part of it. And, looking shifty, no, they hadn't really seen much of it.

Now, maybe I hit on the wrong people, and I know there will be digital enthusiasts in all these agencies that have a strong interest and view. But these are big clients, doing something rather brave, certainly experimental, in the digital space. Surely, anyone who works on their business at a traditional agency ought to have thought about it, taken a look, formed an opinion.

We all know (deep down) that the majority of digital advertising is really quite mediocre. Yes it is. But WATJ? and Katemodern aren't. And the commercial involvement in this digital content is much more subtle and interesting and ground-breaking than, say, another banner ad.

So why are so many agencies tuning out. Is it evidence of a fundamental failure to understand the medium? It's not as crude as that, I think. It's not that these agencies don't "get" digital. They "get" digital if there's a sniff of new business, a chance to ratchet up the fees, prove they're future-proof.

It's just that an awful lot of senior people in traditional agencies don't seem to engage with digital unless it's in their face. If they haven't actually been called upon to make the drama, seal the product placement or amplify the association, many agencies are simply ignoring some of these new digital developments. Meanwhile, TV production companies, which have long sought ways to get their noses into the advertising trough, are rampaging towards the new opportunities. Are agencies going to stand aside? From my crude and utterly unscientific research, it seems so.

"You COMPLETELY missed the point," he said. It happens; not often. So, what was the point? "It's got nothing to do with salaries. Young people don't want to work in advertising because all the advertising they see is so bad." Hmmm. He was referring to our feature last week about new recruits to the industry, and why advertising might be losing its appeal to the brightest new grads. Could it be that ads themselves are putting graduates off?

Maybe he's got a point. Agencies can do the milk round, the IPA can polish the industry's image, but really advertising's loudest voice is the advertising itself. And what proportion of the ads that you see make the hairs on the back of your neck stand to attention? How many make you feel excited? How many make you feel really good about the industry you work in?

I recently sat through the Film4 Director's Cut Awards. John Hegarty won a gong for the Levi's ouvre, Blackcurrant Tango won in the vintage section, Sony Bravia's "balls" and Honda won in the contemporary section: all leave a warm feeling in the pit of your stomach; they're so good.

But how many ads make you feel like this? Make you proud to be in advertising? And if you were 21 with all your career choices in front of you, would your experience of (traditional) advertising as a consumer excite you enough to choose it for a career? Mind you, even making bad ads for toilet freshener has got to be better than banking, hasn't it?