And another thing: we’re all digitalists now

  • And Another Thing ...
  • March 13, 2015
  • Paul Catmur
And another thing: we’re all digitalists now

In the past, advertising agencies struggled to understand what was happening to their business, and flailed around in the digital space allowing smart young entrepreneurs to found digital agencies to help lead clients to digital safety. But times have changed.

It will soon make no more sense to have a digital agency than to have a billboard agency or a radio agency. Almost every advertising agency works in digital as a matter of course and digital agencies are trying to close the void from the other side by increasingly claiming competency in traditional areas (generally with little evidence). This means that where digital agencies become as competent as traditional agencies in all areas they become a traditional agency.

Digital, or interactive, or online, or new media or cyber is not one beast but is made up of a number of channels that have both enhanced and complicated our attempts to market our clients’ business to consumers. They require new skills and knowledge but not, I would suggest, complete technical mastery. Personally, I do not know how to code HTML but neither can I use an Avid, Photoshop or a Red camera. I have no idea which buttons to press on a sound engineer’s desk, but I reckon I know enough to work together with someone who does to get the desired result. Shane from Franklin Road may disagree.

In 2013 I was invited to be the New Zealand judge on the Cyber (Digital) category at the Cannes ‘Festival of Creativity’. As one of the few non digital-agency jurors I felt as skittish as a cat at a dog show but I thought it a good opportunity to go undercover and see what differences there were between digital and advertising creatives.

After several days of arguing over idea, execution and when we should next have a coffee break I think I’d avoided standing out as a digital luddite apart from my failure to laugh at in-jokes about flash animation and my insistence on shaving every other day. As a jury we chose two Grands Prix, one of which was a series of internet films called The Beauty Inside for the clients Intel and Toshiba. I thought it was a great piece of work: a really clever idea that was innovative, technically interesting, relevant to the product and beautifully executed.

As we leant back in our excruciatingly painful conference centre chairs, basking in the haze of finally reaching a conclusion most people were happy with, I decided to do a little probing. I figured it was too late to throw me off the jury so I innocently suggested to my colleagues that the films we were judging as a Cyber jury were actually the same as the ones being viewed down the hall by the Film Jury, and that they were being judged in the same way.

The basis for my argument was that consumers view any marketing content pretty much the same whether it be served to them via TV, their laptop, the cinema or their smart phone. i.e. the medium used has relatively little effect on the impact of the content shown, and if it was a great TV ad it would generally make a great online film and vice versa. In fact the short format of TV ads could have been designed for internet viewers with their nervous goldfish attention spans. Therefore digital is not a fundamentally separate discipline, just one that needs adjustments of the craft that advertisers have been using for decades.

I steeled myself for an aggressive response and eyed up the exit. A quick sprint and a jump over the balcony and I would be safe in the tepid waters of the Mediterranean. However, somewhat to my surprise and, if honest, mild disappointment, my fellow jurors agreed that filmic content whether for TV or online was basically the same thing and we should stop behaving like they were different.

Further support came when two days later the 2013 Cannes Film Jury announced the winner of their own Grand Prix: The Beauty Inside for Intel and Toshiba.

So two juries, one of digital judges and one of advertising judges, had independently come to the same conclusion. The campaign may have been designed to work online yet it was created by an advertising agency, Pereira and O’Dell from San Francisco.

At the press conference my fellow judge James Hilton, founder of one of the world’s leading digital agencies, AKQA, noted: ‘We see films being voted for in Cyber - what this shows is digital is everywhere and it’s kind of redundant to talk about things in terms of digital.’

Digital is not a weird adjunct for cloven-hoved specialists, it is an integral part of what we do.

We are all digitalists now.

Let’s play nicely.

  • Paul Catmur is creative managing partner at Barnes Catmur and Friends. This article was originally published in NZ Marketing magazine 

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