Your Channel Sucks: a rant about the state of Digital Marketing in 2015.

17 Rebecca D'Cunha


YouTube killed the TV star, nobody reads newspapers anymore, every year since the birth of Christ is the year of mobile. Digital rulez! Traditional marketing droolz! Etc etc.

Traditional vs. Digital

I’m sure if you’re even remotely interested in digital marketing (and, since your reading a digital marketing agency’s blog, I’m going to go ahead and make the radical assumption that you are), you’ve read a thousand and one posts heralding the death of the traditional, above-the-line marketing campaign and the age of the super personalised, laser targeted, highly optimised digital marketing campaign. Traditional agencies (or, at least, the one I used to work at) are all genuinely terrified for their futures and the end of their getting paid large amounts of money to have daily boozy lunches. (You could say, it’s the end of their Gravytrain. Har Har). All hail the geeks! Death to the leery media salesperson! Isn’t progress beautiful?

Yet, despite the fact that consumption of traditional media continues to fall, particularly with that all important 15-40 demo, TV advertising has just recorded it’s strongest ever year, with live TV spots in particular still attracting the big money. Billboards advertising is going from strength to strength, incorporating touch screens, cameras and augmented reality to create ever-more-eye-catching innovative campaigns. Even the print industry, an industry that was widely considered as good as dead just a couple of years ago, is being pulled back from the brink by innovative, blended native advertising campaigns, to the extent that The Guardian can’t sell it’s native advertising slots fast enough.

Whats going on? Weren’t we supposed to be the angels of advertising death, leaving the broken bodies of annoying CGI-meercats and exploitative payday-loan-peddling puppets in our wake? The only thing digital has managed to kill off so far is the bloody telephone book.

This isn’t another ‘SEO is Dead!’ or a ‘PPC is too expensive to be profitable now!’ post. Targeted, optimised, needs-based marketing is more than proven to deliver ROI ratios that vary from ‘High’ to ‘Holy Crap!’ if done right, and as long as people are turning to the Internet to solve a problem, there will continue to be huge profit in being the organisation that figures how to position themselves as the solution to that need. We’ve earned a seat at the table now, and I think that’s reasonably well recognised at all levels of most business’. I could happily wax lyrical for a post about the awesome work we do, both as a company and as a wider industry, but this post is supposed to be a critique, and I’m sure you have zero desire to read paragraphs of self congratulatory toddle anyway.

First some perspective, digital has enjoyed phenomenal growth, particularly over the last 5 years, and is estimated to finally eclipse traditional ad spend in the UK for the first time this year. Go team! Let’s all crack open the champagne, get black out drunk, and wake up in a strange place 3 days later like every Hollywood cliche of a marketer ever.

Or should we pat ourselves on the back? Is this a success? In a world where just 17% of 16-24 year olds – the single most important target demographic for the vast majority of brands – say they’d miss the TV if it were taken away tomorrow, why is the split only now approaching “50/50”? Shouldn’t we have reached this milestone like 7 years ago? Shouldn’t we have 70% of all ad spend by now? Surely TV advertising should be a wasteland inhabited primarily at adverts aimed at young children and the 65+ demo. We’ve got the audience, TV hasn’t. Why haven’t we got the trust?

Some would argue that it’s a generational thing. The Marketing Directors and MDs who control the purse strings are basing their decisions on the MBAs they earned 30 years before, when ITV and maybe some radio was your main way to reach a large broadcast audience, and how your logo sat in a shop window could make or break a brand. They just don’t get it, maaaan. There is probably a kernel of truth to some of that.

Or, maybe, there is a problem that traditional marketing has a solution for that digital marketers, on the whole, haven’t. There is one word that, throughout my career that has gone from tiny local businesses to the board rooms of some of the worlds largest brands, I have hardly ever heard mentioned, and that I’ve never brought up. And if we want to mature as an industry, it’s a problem we’re going to have to tackle.

We need to talk about branding.

When Apple announced the iWatch, they didn’t do it by bidding on the keyword ‘Smartwatch’. They still don’t bid on that term. Microsoft do, and can you even name their smartwatch off the top of your head? (It’s a ‘Fitbit’, apparently?)

I’m sure Microsoft make a nice profit off the campaign. But I bet they’d rather be shifting the iWatch’s numbers.

I’m not saying Apple aren’t missing a trick by not bidding on that sort of term – it’d be profitable, and I bet at least one person involved in their PPC is frustrated that they can’t do it for whatever reason. But, the lack of PPC didn’t prevent them shifting millions of the things globally at launch.

Thing is, digital marketing on the whole has it’s roots firmly in developer and, to an lesser extent, hacker culture. SEO, for example, was almost all about exploiting loopholes and weaknesses in search engines’ various algorithms as recently as 5 years ago. Paid is one for the mathematicians, using ever-more sophisticated models of analysis to squeeze every last penny of profit out the campaign.

As a breed, digital marketers are all about that efficiency – spending millions on a TV spot and relying on a brief survey of a few thousand people’s vague emotional reaction to judge success is really against our nature. We want to know where every penny goes, and how to maximise its value. That looks great on a P&L, of course; more than once, while working as an SEO in a media agency who shall remain nameless, I was told to omit the ROI ratio I was driving from my presentations because it made everyone else look embarrassingly bad. But if we landed a contract with Apple for the iWatch prior to launch, could I have taken responsibility for a significant number of their sales? Maybe, over the years as the product and the need are established and matured. But at launch, honestly, no. And we’ve got the audience! We just don’t have the tools, yet.

Are we drowning in Analytics?

Are we optimising ourselves out the game? Are we sacrificing 1,000 potential sales from a brand advocate over the next 10 years in the name of making that one conversion we can see in Google Analytics today as profitable as possible? Red Bull didn’t become Red Bull by being the most efficient advertiser at the point of sale. They broadcast a message, across every channel they can think of, that they are people who do a sweet kick flip off a staircase after falling out of an Air Balloon In Space listening to Rock Music before landing in Tokyo to Drift Race, Dude! Never mind that they are primarily consumed by hyperactive schoolchildren and desperately tired office workers, the image is that if you buy their products, you’ll be an extreme sports loving, rocket car driving goddam stud too. Sex, after all, sells as the old adage goes, and ain’t nobody having fantasies about something they read in a PPC ad.

Don’t let the money fool you – traditional ATL marketing really is dying. Most TV stations would kill – actually literally murder another human being, knowing full well that the person had a wife and 3 kids, in cold blood – for the sorts of key demo numbers that Gary, 14, from Swindon has on his video game YouTube channel.

But the tools used to achieve branding at scale – interruption advertising, primarily, just don’t work online. YouTube advert creatives are often reduced to begging audiences not to click ‘skip’, reducing multi-million pound creative agencies to the sorts of strategies historically employed by the homeless. Surprisingly, this strategy doesn’t work. Meanwhile, the last time anyone paid attention to a banner advert was April 3rd, 2003. It was one of those old ‘Shoot the purple monkey, win a prize’ banner ads. Turns out, in a shocking twist, there was no prize after all! Social advertising is finally maturing into a valid platform to reach people at scale, but whether the ability to personalise will overcome banner fatigue forever is still a big question mark.

Turns out, people don’t like being interrupted with advertising! And now, thanks to the wonders of technology, they don’t have to be.


So, what’s the solution? How do we create needs, and how do we do it at the sort of scale brands need? It’s all to play for, and there’s opportunities abound for the marketers who solve the problem.

Tune in next time for the first and likely only annual ‘Congratulations, Mike at Gravytrain thought your digital campaign was not godawful’ awards, where we will be looking at various campaigns that ‘get it’, and why they work.