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A digital dilemma - Do as we say not as we do

iPhone 4 Digital Agency

Once again Ad Age runs a story about agencies and the digital vs traditional struggle within those hierarchical and vertical institutions. Last week the story was how the advertising agency Ogilvy & Mather "plans to put Lars Bastholm, who joined last year from AKQA, in charge of overseeing both TV campaigns and banner ads.."

Mr Bastholm will become the chief creative officer of its New York office and presumably he will be charged with more than overseeing banner ads as Ad Age so pithily puts it. He will of course be in charge of TV.

Unfortunately these sort of executive personnel shuffles - adding a new top down chief with a new hat, to the top down structure - are not the answer to marketers real-world digital problems.

It's the consumer, stupid!

The news today, 6/17/10, is that Apple received 600,000+ pre-orders for iPhone 4, a new record.

There appears to be a puzzling disconnect in the marketing world. Those that work at marketing and advertising companies must surely interact with at least a few of the plethora of interactive digital devices that are selling like hot cakes every month? If outside of the office they are immersed in what consumers consider a post-digital world, then surely they must want to apply what they have learned and how they interact with each other in this new and ever-evolving sandbox, to client campaigns? As new digital devices come to market, seemingly faster than I can peel an orange, the opportunity to win and win big with a first-to-market, game changing campaign, must make marketers salivate. Apparently not, at least in the bigger companies. Is it an inter-company silo problem or a lack of vision?

In his Ad Age article today, Oren Frank ponders digital and the chasm that is the divide between consumers and marketing. He has this to say: "Although, as consumers, most of us live in 2010, when we look at ourselves as marketers and agencies, many still inhabit a parallel and irrelevant universe. Although common sense would suggest that the gap between marketers and consumers is shrinking, I believe that it is actually growing wider."

He points out that today's consumer lives in an accelerated technological world and their lifestyles have adapted to the changes that certain devices bring to that world. Take the iPad which ought to be a massive boon to publishers - not so fast. Small, agile development companies appear to be the winners in being first-to-market, with one, Pulse, beating the New York Times to the iPad with its news aggregator. How did the NYT react? It threatened to sue Apple and the app creators.. Meanwhile Wired Magazine produced an iPad app that Frank describes as "a branded and half-baked PDF reader."

So is there a real disconnect between marketers and consumers?

Frank again: "..the gap between us as consumers and "us" as marketers is growing wider. Not sure? Try running some research following the behavior of your "young and friendly" CMO as a consumer, and compare it to her or his media-spending allocation. It's as if we follow two separate sets of rules."

What to do? It has been noted that companies who embrace technological change and the societal shifts that come with that change, are the last to want to put new models into action as it threatens the very core beliefs of how they attained success as a company using the tried and true old methods [e.g. the American automobile industry.] In other words, talk is cheap.

It's been said before, but worth saying again, that ad agencies need to decisively change their internal structures to enable their employees to operate in an open environment that allows risk-taking and failure, passion for the new, playing with technology and innovating, creating game-changing applications and products that allow collaboration with others. Oh, and doing good. In other words - reflect society.

Then maybe as marketers we can entice consumers to do as we do, not as we say.

University of Oregon Portfolio Show June 2010

Tracey Emin nurtures young talent