I get into this fight all of the time.
When people talk to me about advertising agencies – especially ones that claim to be "fully integrated" – what I (still) hear is: digital advertising. Make no mistake about it, advertising is a juggernaut in the world of marketing, but it’s not everything. That’s the main gripe I have when people look at advertising agencies with digital capabilities, and try to compare them to a digital marketing agency. Here’s my theory on this (and it’s not perfect, there are variances and exceptions to every rule): An advertising agency (whether they have digital capabilities or not) are in the hammer and nail business. To an advertising agency (which would be the hammer), everything can be solved with an ad (which would be the nail) – and yes, to a hammer, everything does look like a nail. There is nothing wrong with that. Advertising is an essential component of a strong communications platform, and it is still a very efficient way for a brand to communicate a message to an audience. Brands can complain all they want about the diminishing returns on advertising, but this is a problem that gets exacerbated when lack of compelling creative meets a faltering scarcity model (too many channels and opportunities).
How does a digital marketing agency fit into this?
It depends on who you ask. We’ve been running Twist Image since 2000 (that’s 14 years, for those who do not want to do the math). And, for all of that time, we were never looking to solve a business challenge with an ad. We have always looked at the business challenge and tried to develop a solution that is based in the digital world. So, we’re looking to create products and/or services that can help a brand leapfrog both their competitors and the more traditional ways of connecting with consumers. From there, we build a framework for success (and, if you’re struggling to understand the difference between a framework and ROI, check out Avinash Kaushik‘s amazing article titled, See-Think-Do: A Content, Marketing, Measurement Business Framework). Once we have that product or service (and yes, that could be an e-commerce solution, a game, an app, social media initiatives, a website, etc…) and a framework for it, it becomes a question of communications. From the communications standpoint, we’re trying to leverage a healthy mix of paid, earned and owned models to help the brand to be successful.
Can you feel the difference?
Advertising is one component of the communications challenge. The reason this confusion is so prevalent in the marketing industry, is because we use media spend as the benchmark for some kind of marketing mix comprehension. Just today, eMarketer published the news item, Digital Ad Spending Worldwide to Hit $137.53 Billion in 2014. I thought it was a typo. From the article: "Spending on ads served to internet-connected devices including desktop and laptop computers, mobile phones and tablets will reach $137.53 billion this year, according to eMarketer’s latest estimates of worldwide paid media spending. Digital spend will be up 14.8% over 2013 levels, according to the forecast, and will make up just over one-quarter of all paid media spending worldwide. That’s up from about one-fifth of spending in 2012, and it is set to rise to nearly one-third of the total by the end of our forecast period, when advertisers around the world will invest $204.01 billion in digital."
That’s a lot of bank.
Actually, that’s a misnomer. It’s a staggering amount of dollars. And, when marketers are pouring that kind of financial resources behind the paid media spending of brands, it’s easy to see how the distinction between advertising and marketing gets foggy. If you don’t think it’s staggering, just check out this chart: Internet Advertising Revenues Hit $7.3 Billion in Q1 ’11 from the IAB. I remember when the paid media spend was well under the one billion dollar level (I remember it so well, because I was selling online media back in 1999). Now, digital advertising spend is rivaling that of TV, and for one good reason: brands put the money where the consumers are. And, where do you think that the consumers are?
It’s about more than media.
When was the last time you read something about a brand and said to yourself, "you see… that is smart!" That my reaction when I read the AdWeek article, Why Johnson & Johnson Treasures BabyCenter’s Data. Moms and soon-to-be moms tend to like BabyCenter for information. That digital property is owned by Johnson & Johnson. Think about the business solution that J&J solved with this marketing solution. Think about the data capture that is happening on this site. And, ultimately, think about how they can leverage all of this information to better target both the advertising on this site (and even when J&J advertises on other mom-related sites). It’s staggering. It also demonstrates the massive chasm between digital advertising (the last mile of communicating the brand to the world) in comparison to the digital marketing work (develop a platform for moms, build a framework around it and push a communications platform to either get the message out or, in this case, even monetize it).
Don’t dismiss advertising.
It bears repeating: advertising is big, massive and growing (especially in the digital channels). Just look at those numbers: $137.53 billion in 2014. Still, advertising is but a subset of the communications platform which – in and of itself – is a component of a greater marketing good. Be floored by the media dollars that are being shifted to digital, but without a sound marketing platform that runs horizontally throughout the brand/organization, those messages will – for the most part – fall on deaf ears.
Still, digital continues to look healthy, growing and ever-evolving – even when we confuse the terms.