Sir Sorrell's School of Digital Doubt
In a Times article today, Sir Martin Sorrell gave what he called a lesson from the past for digital doubters. He compares the advent of digital advertising to the rise of TV in the 50's - in terms of the novelty of the new medium, the scepticism and difficulty that traditional agencies and advertisers had in coming to grips with using it, the initial approaches to using it for marketing, and a view on the future.
He is not the first to do this, as many (myself included) have used this comparison to help businesses understand the impact digital is having on traditional marketing. I feel the article's title, however, is incredibly misleading as the piece does more to reassure traditional media and advertisers than it does to clear up any doubts about digital.
If you correlate the points Sir Sorrell makes about TV to new media as he intends ("Although parallels with digital are far from perfect, there’s real value to be gained from looking back ... In advertising and in the newspaper world, some of these responses are to be seen in the emergence of the new technologies."), you end up with more doubts than when you started Sir Sorrell's lesson.
While my inner geek opposed it, I defended traditional agencies recently when Brian asked if big agencies can compete. I don't do Jarvis-esque or Umair-inspired critiques too often, and I'm certainly not much for fisking, but this one deserves it:
Sir Sorrell: In advertising and in the newspaper world, some of these responses are to be seen in the emergence of the new technologies. Again, it’s proved hard for traditional organisations, comfortable with established techniques, to embrace the new. Again, this hasn’t been simple bloody-mindedness.
GN: Translation: Like TV, the advertising industry completely missed the opportunity to capitalize on the advent of digital.
Sir Sorrell: The new technologies seemed difficult to master, were largely unproven and showed little sign of being profitable.
GN: Translation: In the late 80s and 90s, WPP never bothered read (or did not take seriously) research from their own companies that showed, conclusively, that the internet was a fantastic media for not only commerce but for branding, and that digital revenues would grow at a phenomenal pace.
Sir Sorrell: And, of course, in the early years, television in the UK enjoyed nothing like national coverage, which made it of doubtful (and totally unproven) value to national advertisers.
GN: I guess we can skip this comparison, as I doubt even the most sceptical of traditional marketer would venture to claim that the internet was not seen as a global medium very early on.
Sir Sorrell: Personal confidence was low: senior agency people found themselves ill-equipped to recommend the television medium or even to debate it with clients.
GN: Translation: On the whole, senior management at traditional agencies is ill-equipped to recommend or even to debate digital strategy with clients.
Sir Sorrell: Their output, by and large, was technique-driven; if something was technically possible, it was used, whether or not it made marketing sense. There was a lot of animation and singing. Jingles reigned.
GN: Translation: Like TV in its formative years, digital advertising today is done by start-up hacks who don't understand marketing. Like their TV predecessors, they rely on technology, not marketing techniques. Flash, Ajax, and social networks are the jingles of the 21st century.
Sir Sorrell: Those who did embrace the new technologies with most enthusiasm tended to be those for whom the digital age and the internet were of absorbing interest in themselves; so again, basic principles of good advertising sometimes took second place to addiction to technique. There was an age gap, a knowledge gap and a vocabulary gap. Two quite different languages were spoken and there were few who were truly bilingual.
GN: Translation: Early digital agencies were run by mostly young professionals who knew nothing about marketing or advertising. Now I'm with him on the young part ... Yes, many of us were young when we started working online. How old was David Ogilvy when he started? Leo Burnett? John Orr Young? Raymond Rubicam? Walter Landor? Heck, Sir Sorrell was only 32 when he became group finance director at Saatchi & Saatchi and just over 40 when he founded WPP. Despite their collective youth, I'd argue that they knew a lot about marketing or advertising. Fact is, most of the people I've worked with have had significant experience as well as MBA's or other advanced degrees.
And what is with this "addiction to technique?" He mentions it more than once. The implication is that new media agencies only care about code and know nothing about marketing. This is a complete fallacy. A new medium requires new techniques and languages. Translating (a word he uses often) work from one medium to the next won't cut it. People don't want to watch 30" spots online. They want to create and/or share them.
Sir Sorrell: Other agencies did their best to absorb the new medium into existing account groups - but were hampered by simple ignorance.
GN: Ignorance in the account groups? On the client-side? Hard to tell who is being put down.
Sir Sorrell: Existing, traditional businesses will continue to develop digital expertise. It will take time, because it clearly takes longer to effect change in a big, established company heavily dependent on the success of its traditional business for the foreseeable future. Start-ups — the digital-only specialists — will continue to develop their advertising expertise. The language barrier will gradually be lowered and interpreters will thrive.
GN: Translation: Our clients will continue to move very slowly towards digital, and we're in no hurry either. TV is a cash cow, and we're fine with that and will keep milking it for as long as possible. Start-ups will continue to take market share from large shops. Note: Anyone out there interested in hiring an interpreter should feel free to contact me.
Sir Sorrell: Furthermore - and here the parallel with the advent of commercial television falters - it seems entirely probable that the internet will permanently reduce the profitability of traditional businesses run on traditional lines.
GN: Translation: Newspapers are dead. Others may follow.
Sir Sorrell: There will be constant competition between old and new. Slowly, the new media will cease to be thought of as new media; they will simply be additional channels of communication.
GN: Translation: Digital is going to keep getting bigger. Much bigger.
Sir Sorrell: And like all media that were once new media but are now just media, they’ll earn a well-deserved place in the media repertoire, perhaps through reverse takeovers — but will almost certainly displace none.
GN: Translation: WPP will spend a lot more on acquisitions. WPP will prevail, even if it means buying every last one of them.
Technorati Tags: advertising, media, dinosaurs
Monday, June 05, 2006
Would like to invite you to a Web2.0/Blogger social in London for June 26th 7pm.
Let me know if you are interested by commenting on my website under the open invite.
# posted by Roger : 12:08 PM, June 06, 2006