Originally written for Marketing Magazine
A ‘viral’ was something a brand manager actively avoided rather than desired.
A ‘smart’ phone was a landline that could stretch into the other room, away
from the prying ears of other family members.
‘Time shifted’ television watching meant catching a re-run of The Late Late at
some godforsaken hour of the morning.
‘Social network’ meant the back of the church or more likely, the lads at the bar.
Yes 1990 was a very different place for marketers.This magazine is a record of one of the most interesting eras in marketing, and has documented the change in the period since. Through all of this, it’s clear that one addition to our vocabulary has had more impact more than any other.
Let’s talk ‘digital’. Like all industries, Irish agency land has found digital disruption a long, tough journey with plenty of casualties. As with any meaningful technological innovation, from the printing press to radio to T.V., the web has been met with confusion, apprehension, fear or misunderstanding by some, matched with a gleeful sense of optimism and opportunity by many others.
What first began as an afterthought, the sprinkles on top of a campaign if a budget allowed, a way to tick the innovation box, digital marketing has now fused itself right into the fabric of what we do. But it’s also been a steep learning curve. Along the way, we’ve learned the difference between microsites and websites, native advertising and digital display, between UX and UI, and all how to excel at digital buzzword bullshit to boot. Digital marketing is so pervasive that agencies have formed around former sub-categories like content, social, search and analytics. Another big change is that the default output for a big brief is no longer a T.V. ad. Indeed if it is, you should fire your agency. In fact, I’d go as far to say that it’s now a cop out for any Irish marketer to think that digital ‘isn’t part of their job spec’.
It’s all just marketing now.
In a wider sense, Irish digital adoption has also kept pace with the most advanced economies in the world, meaning our industry has been at the arrowhead of change. We’re early adopters, social media devotees, smartphone addicts and have developed an e-commerce buying habit. As a parallel, Irish consumers are also more world aware and cynical of brand intentions than we’ve ever been.
Elsewhere, doomsdayers say media and marketing is in danger of imploding unto itself, such is the relentless pressure of technology. Brands are in combat for our decreasing attention span with an army of amateur internet creators and the media world has moved from a finite, desired inventory to an infinite inventory with plenty of willing volunteers to fill it for free. The internet has also meant that the sheer pace of cultural change has sped up. Witness how campaigns like the ‘ice bucket’ can spread like wildfire and then be dropped in a heartbeat.
So we’re all truly aware of how digital has impacted our industry. But has it really profoundly changed what we do? Or is that actually the biggest fallacy of the past 25 years? Here’s a question to chew on, in the time since this publication first reared its head, has our role as marketers really changed all that much?
As a digital native, I’m sometimes accused of bias towards technology. Yet despite this great industry makeover, I actually don’t think the basics of what we do have changed. Nor will they any time soon. According to Prof. Byron Sharp’s excellent and respected book ‘How Brands Grow’, consistency, distinctiveness, noteworthiness, excellent targeting and constant reach are all tenets of brand growth. Another key to growth is to achieve distinctiveness with sensory brand assets and cues.
Through digital mediums, it’s never been easier to achieve each of these tenets. In fact, not only has our game not changed, but our arsenal has never been bigger.
Sure, the space we exist in and the channels we use are vastly different, as I’ve explored above. But above all, we shouldn’t forget that it’s still about selling great ideas. Just nowadays the ideas should be agnostic of channel.
No matter how much we emphasise analytics or technology, it remains that great marketing can never be reduced solely into binary 1s and 0s. Over-reliance on measurability, and less allowance for creativity is a sure fire path to obsolescence for ad agencies. For most great campaigns, there isn’t a research group or algorithm that could predict success.
That’s why David Ogilvy’s writings feel as fresh now as they did back in the Mad Men days.
Sure, marketing is and should always be part science, and digital has increased our reliance on this.
But just like in 1990, and just like it will be for as long as this magazine keeps going, it’s the art part that really counts.
Maybe it’s true that the more things change, the more they stay the same.