Debating the change: Is digital actually altering how we operate?

Let’s start the debate! Rosie Yakob and Tom Goodwin recently opposed or agreed with how digital is (or isn’t) changing our industry landscape. Who do you side with?

Topic: Even with the rise of digital, nothing has really changed in advertising. 

Debating in the affirmative: Tom Goodwin

(saying that nothing has changed)

The idea that life is wildly different these days is rather conventional, romantic and profitable.

Disrupt or die, change first and fast, on the most agile survive is the cadence and tone of today.  Yet if you take a look around is life really that different? Has your day today been so materially different?

Did you wake in a 3D printed home, to a drone delivered breakfast you bought with cryptocurrency, or are you like me working not with voice but a keyboard laid out such to avoid mechanical arms clashing for commonly types letter combinations. Not only is change not that significant but what we are told is changing isn’t real. We like to think that young people want experiences not possessions, but they own more stuff than ever before. We say that brands need to tell stories or be purpose-driven, but this is neither especially true nor new. Talk in the USA is often about the rise of Amazon’s private label, which seems much brands have always been outside the US. We think of eCommerce which is effectively mail-order catalogues for the modern age. Even direct to consumer brands were common with Dell in the 1980s and companies like Sears and Roebuck in the 1930s.

Of course, many parts of life are different, we were once told never to get in a strangers car, and we now take Uber’s to Airbnb’s where we sleep in strangers homes. TV content is now streamed over the internet, not over the airwaves, it’s consumed on smaller screens. Phones have democratized content creation, VC money and more accessible technology have has made making a company easier than ever, I now have less free time, more to do, more choices to make and this must mean marketing now has a plethora of new tactics, strategies, opportunities and decisions to make.

But I see very little evidence this is true.

With a greater abundance of choices than ever before, and too little time, people now need to make decisions about what to buy faster than ever and with less information. It is this precise reason why the concept of the brand was invented. It is now more important than ever that brands are well known, brand messaging is key, and that people feel better and more confident about the decisions they make via branding

A drone which flew a Burrito is still one I’d choose based on my perceptions of quality. Those who think that Alexa, or Siri or Computer Brain interfaces change the nature of branding and decisions are set to be upset. Brands are still built by powerful repetitive messages, by narratives that build across media, and by elements that are distinctive and memorable and by of all things, the endless Media and Advertising expression sending the right message to the right person at the right time.

Brands are now able to build on different screens, be targeted in new ways, ads can be shoppable. VR and AI and 5G and many things awake new possibilities but the main tenets of our industry remain very similar. The more we can focus on calmness, not panic, on possibilities not memories, but on not throwing out hundreds of years of wisdom, because we convinced ourselves that things must be different

Debating in the negative: Rosie Yakob

(saying that everything has changed)

At Ad:Tech Auckland, I’ll take the stage to counter Tom Goodwin’s point that even with the rise of digital, nothing in advertising has really changed. When I was studying at the University of Georgia, jobs like “Social Media Managers” did not exist, but less than two years out of college, I managed to nab a job doing just that. So, it’s true that I have a soft spot for digital communications, having kickstarted my career so heavily invested in technology.

But I’ll also take the stage with my partner Faris, to talk about how binaries are naive and dangerous — because there’s rarely a single satisfying answer, and as communicators in the modern world, we need to be comfortable with the grey area.

Before the rise of digital, there were supermodels and songs known around the world. But since our world became more digital, culture has fragmented: There can be influencers with millions of followers, or songs with millions of streams that no one reading this article will have heard of.

Digital begat social media, which changed how we go about our lives, from how we interact with individuals and companies to how we shop. Instead of only corporate communications, we have conversations and recommendations — not just from people nearby that we know, but from people around the world.

With digital infiltrating so much of our lives, through the devices in our pockets (and on our wrists), free time disappeared. Advertisers are no longer competing with boredom, but instead with every single thing that lives on the internet, including consumers.

Digital gave everyone knowledge and power: The power to create, the power to publish. It was previously held in high esteem, but poorly shot videos with cats often perform better than brands hawking their wares.

Consumers decided that they’d rather pay for the content themselves than watch ads, and digital gave rise to TiVO and ad-free streaming services like Netflix. Re-targeting was decidedly creepy, and digital gave us ad-blockers so we wouldn’t have to be stalked by Mahabis slippers, or the dongle we already purchased at a lower rate from a different site.

TV, print, outdoor, cinema, radio — these are all digital media now, if not exclusively, then often. Even when advertising is designed without a digital component, it travels through the world differently because digital channels exist. And the expectations set by the interactivity of digital have certainly changed the landscape in which all marketers operate.

At its core, advertising has always been about brands connecting with consumers for commercial impact. So if we’re talking philosophy, then perhaps not much has changed.

But looking beyond philosophy to practice, I’m glad I’m on this side of the debate. Nothing’s changed because of digital?!

Both parties will be battling each other on stage at ad:tech Auckland’s great debate.

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