why is digital separate?

From an advertising perspective, there is no TV strategy or radio strategy or print strategy separate from the brand strategy. So why is there a separate digital strategy?

I suspect that, in many respects, this is due to the fact that traditional agencies were passed over by clients for their digital work…interactive was thrown to separate internal functions and to separate agencies, was treated differently, and came to be seen as separate from brand communication. It came to be treated as a below-the-line function like promotions.

Perhaps that made sense in the early days, when clients and agencies were trying to wrap their heads around this webbernet thing (in agency speak: it made sense back in the days before clients believed that mainline ad shops could really do digital).

It doesn’t make sense now.

Sure, there are definitive differences in how the messaging should be tailored to consumers based on where you are talking to them, but it should all exist under the brand strategy, right? And with the right hires, mainline agencies should be able to execute in what is really just another connection point, right?

If you are an agency looking to consolidate the digital work with your brand work, like Carmichael Lynch with Subaru, then you are probably nodding your head and thinking how I just get it.

If you are a digital agency you are probably thinking that I am a dinosaur too steeped in the traditional world to get that digital needs its own strategy.

If you are a client you are thinking that perhaps traditional agencies have too much power and that maybe it would be better to keep “below the line” functions and agencies separate from the ad agencies because you are not convinced that “big ideas” actually sell products.

At the end of the day integration is in.

It is harder and harder to defend the mass of specialist agencies, each trying to take the brand message and define it in their own way (and each trying to take over the branding process and move front and center, like the promo agency pitching print ads). Why pay them all separately and why divide across functions what really is the same message conveyed contextually?

Once mainline agencies show their digital chops, like Crispin has with Burger King, there will be a consolidation craze. For about ten years. Until the de-consolidation craze will hit.

It has ever been thus (just look at how clients and agencies have treated media over the years).

And will always be thus.

Even though integration makes the most sense so you have a unified voice and a single group behind multi-touchpoint messaging.


2 responses to “why is digital separate?

  1. I am nodding vigorously to this one. Unnecessary distinctions really do threaten to fragment the message, I think. I remember years ago talking with a digital ad person about this, and the person believed that advertising online was a completely different beast, one that old school advertisers couldn’t understand. My position was that one needn’t be a digital expert to come up with a flashing click-the-monkey execution. True, things have changed. Monkeys don’t flash as much, but still — there’s a message, there’s an audience, there’s a budget. Creatively, I think it can all live under the same roof.

  2. Great post. I work at a pure play digital agency and I fundamentally believe that the ideal situation is an integrated solution, unfortunately very few integrated agencies are currently able to provide innovative, cutting edge work in the digital realm. I think it will happen, but right now the integrated agencies are having some troubles adjusting to the processes and ways of thinking that produce great interactive work. I wrote an article a couple of days ago about why some agencies can’t do great digital. I would love to hear your thoughts on it.


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