The Blog

by Jim Copacino

Digital Firms Face the Music

For the past several years, advertising agencies that built their reputations by way of traditional media (read TV commercials) have been harshly criticized for not fully embracing the digital and mobile worlds. Even the mighty Wieden & Kennedy was publicly called out by flagship client Nike for being slow to build up its new media capabilities.

Some of the shrillest critics were the upstart digital shops who dismissed mainstream agencies as clueless dodos, doomed to extinction in a world of UX, CMS and API’s.

There was certainly some truth to their charges. Many agencies went through an awkward period of retooling as they struggled to grasp new digital opportunities. And marketing heads, always in search of a panacea, diverted large portions of their budgets to interactive initiatives through digital-only agencies.

So it was somewhat surprising to read a recent ADWEEK article entitled, “Marketers to Digital Shops: Diversify or Die.” It cites results from a survey conducted by RSW/US of 174 marketing executives. “More than two-thirds…said the digital shops need to offer more traditional services to remain relevant, while just a third thought digital-only firms could survive long term.”

So it turns out that being a pure digital play is just as self-defeating as ignoring the explosive growth of the Internet and mobile. This little corner of cyberspace has a response to this startling revelation:

Duh.

What sensible professional working today thinks (a) technology alone is the answer to marketing problems or (b) the Internet doesn’t matter? All but the brain deadest among us long ago understood that the best IDEA wins—and that a great idea straddles traditional and digital media.

No wonder, as the ADWEEK article points out, digital shops are hiring creative directors and strategic planners “from the traditional world.” Hello. That’s how you compete in a multi-platform marketing arena.

The creative high point of 2010 was almost certainly the Isaiah Mustafa Old Spice phenomenon: a sparkling idea, brilliantly executed. Thanks to traditional TV commercials, it exploded instantly on to the pop culture stage, with the speed and scale only broadcasting can achieve. Once established, it became a social media sensation through innovative and intimate real-time, global conversations that only the Internet can support.

It wasn’t a traditional win. It wasn’t a digital win. It was a victory for creative storytelling. So let’s stop firing salvos across a digital divide that doesn’t exist anymore. The traditional/digital war is over. Inspiration is the clear winner.