The Adtagonist: Digital — the buzzword that never buzzed off
by Carl Cardinelli (@ Digital is dead.
Now, in pre-emption of the proverbial pitchforks, I request that you please cool your jets. I’m not saying that what we call “digital channels” are dead. Far from it. I’m merely suggesting that the word “digital” needs to be erased from our vocabulary, only to resurface ironically in the distant future, along with “no regerts” tattoos and parachute pants.
I’d even hazard a guess to say that no word since “creativity” has ever been so abused to the point that it has lost its meaning.
Fear the digital revolution
Bleh. If I have to sit through one more conference listening to some self-important nerd-with-an-unfounded-ego donning the title “Digital Guru” waxing lyrical about the ever-arriving “Digital Revolution”, I’ll surely blow pixels all over the unfortunate top-knot blocking my view. Gone are the days of the digital revolution — so far gone, they’re prehistoric.
For me, the “digital revolution” started with Mario Bros, Casio watches and Yamaha keyboards. You know, the ones where you’d gather the family during Sunday lunch and hit the demo button, followed by the smashing of keys and illusion that you are fooling your relatives into believing that you are rocking a rendition of WHAM!’s “Wake me up” with no prior practice or instrumental experience. What a time to be alive.
Digital never did kill the adstar as it so proudly predicted
Sure, since then, many industries have suffered at the hands of the “digital revolution”. The music industry has suffered. Shares in Kodak Instant Cameras have surely plummeted. I’m pretty sure that the CEO of Snakes and Ladders hasn’t had many golden toilets installed since the birth of the gaming console. But this was nearly three decades ago. Telling people to brace for the impact of the next digital wave does not make you a guru. On the contrary, preaching digital dominance in an age where it encompasses everything we do does the opposite of making you, or your argument, seem relevant.
I understand that people need to specialise. Agencies such as Possible and KINGLY (and locally, the likes of Gloo and Hellocomputer) have seriously kicked ass at owning this (once-niche) space. But ask yourself this. In a few years from now, when anyone you hire under 40 is a digital native, will you call yourself a digital agency? A digital specialist? Or simply an agency that exists in a digital age? If you’re still considered to be a “traditional agency,” stop losing sleep over the dinosaur jokes or buying/merging with a “digital agency”.
So what the 01100110011101010110001101101011 is digital?
Seriously, what is it? Where do we draw the line? And who decides where this hidden line is drawn? I own a digital TV. Are all the ads I encounter considered digital communication? Exact replicas of radio ads are run during podcasts — are they considered to be digital advertising?
Truth is, what we do doesn’t need a label. Sure, award shows will require that we group our work according to two categories — digital or dust. The dust section gets smaller every year, yet what was once considered a powerful 90-second TV commercial is now, well, a 90-second TV commercial, only on a smaller screen. But let’s make it three minutes and dub it branded content. That’ll confuse ’em. More awards categories = more entries = more making it rain.
The point that I’m trying to make is simple. We are living in an age where digital is becoming so deeply integrated into our lives that we shouldn’t need to state it. Question — when was the last time you proudly exclaimed “Smile, folks, I’ve got my digital camera handy” or “Let me check the weather on my smart phone”. No. It’s a bloody camera and a bloody phone, and what we do is bloody advertising.
Claims such as “digital to grow 52% over the next five years” furthermore fuel the flames of a long-gone revolution. Have clients, some of the biggest corporations in the world, happily and willingly offered up their budgets, forecasts and adspend for the next five years to a friendly person from StatsRUs, who submitted this highly confidential material into an algorithm that spits a number out, ensuring that every single brand, big and small, is accounted for? Statistics are good fun, but most of the time they’re about as informative as a five-person focus group.
Why so uppity, chum?
So what’s the real reason that I’m over the word “digital”? Why attack it with such enthusiasm? It’s simple:
By uttering this word, we are both implying and strengthening the real settled dust on our industry — that digital is separate from what we do.
In reality, every channel, both digital and analogue, should be a different chapter of a brand’s story. We harp on about integration, yet put digital at the face of our agencies, of our capabilities and our titles.
Never forget — only we as advertisers consider the differences between “digital” and “traditional”. Do you think that consumers divide the two? Absolutely not. They see things in brands, which is exactly why we need to put all of our efforts into branding, and the ideas that fuel its success.
Generation Z doesn’t give a crap about our internal battle for relevance. Shit, we’re on Z already? Panic! What are we to do when we run out of the generational alphabet?! Will we all reset to the mentality of cavemen á la Y2K?
Yeah, that never happened either.
While “traditional agencies” are considered dinosaurs, the ones who remain focused upon the power of branding are the ones who will live and continue to thrive. The crocs and turtles. The adaptors.
I’m scared! Where to from here?
Right, so we require a new word for what we do. Here’s an idea — instead of technotising or digications, let’s call what we do advertising.
I know it sounds crazy, but it just might work.
Carl Cardinelli (@ began his career in branding and communications in 2003, spending the better part of six years establishing himself in London. Upon his return to South Africa in 2012, he was selected to lead Utopia, the “screw-the-line” agency based in Cape Town. When not heading up a team of unruly young admen, he can be found brewing his own beer, picking out a new pair of sneakers or travelling the globe in search of live music. Carl contributes the new monthly “The Adtagonist” column, in which he will be challenging perceptions of the advertising industry and its practices for the next generation of marketers, to MarkLives.com
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