Businesses aren’t good enough at digital to start calling for the scrapping of the ‘D’ word

Marketing’s own version of the chattering classes – trade magazine columnists, agency execs and Linkedin bloggers are all in a rush to disown the word ‘digital’.

WPP’s CEO Sir Martin Sorrell made headlines recently with his suggestion that Procter & Gamble may soon be joined by other advertisers in admitting they have ‘over-invested in some areas of digital’.

Earlier in the year celebrated agency Adam & Eve/DDB, creator of the ‘Man On The Moon’ and ‘Monty The Penguin’ John Lewis Christmas ad campaigns dropped the word digital from all their job titles and replaced them with the word ‘interactive’.

Mark Ritson, the shouty award-winning columnist and marketing professor has spent years mocking marketers for their ‘misinformed faith’ in digital marketing metrics. Only this week Ritson jumped on Facebook’s apology for an admittedly heinous correction the company has been forced to make to its formerly bogus metrics around videos watched across its network as evidence that: “nobody has a clue about digital”.

Elsewhere – almost everywhere in fact – marketers and their brands strive to look cutting edge by denouncing ‘digital marketing’ and insisting that it should just be called marketing – ‘just the way we engage marketers,’ they say.

And they’re right.

Digital is just a mechanic. It’s the way people operate the various parts of their lives. Rather than ‘digital marketing’, businesses should be looking at the world through a digital lens and trying to engage their target customers through the most relevant channels.

But there’s a reason why we should think twice before calling the death of digital. It’s simply this: we’re still not very good at it.

We know how to do TV, radio, print and outdoor. Yes, those channels are all evolving but as marketers we have a strong grounding in the disciplines of each.

By contrast, we’re still very much on ‘day 1’ of the internet. There’s a tonne to learn and right now, we’re far from masters. We target too aggressively. We don’t personalise enough or indeed, sometimes we abuse our rights and over-personalise, getting it hopelessly wrong in the process and coming off as creepy.

We haven’t worked out the best way to be relevant in a social world and the vast majority of our content misses the mark and never gets seen.

None of that is a reason to give up and cut investment. After all, our customers hang out on Facebook or their local community forums far more often than they do on our websites.

The smart approach would be to invest in equipping ourselves – indeed our entire businesses as opposed to just our marketing teams – to do better.

As PepsiCo exec Brad Jakeman told the Association of National Advertising’s Masters of Marketing conference in Orlando last year, we need to forget about building digital teams and departments in our businesses and focus instead on building a digital culture.


We must educate ourselves. That’s why we’ve sponsored the Future Of Learning supplement in the London Times tomorrow. Check it out. We’d love to know what you think and if you want to know more, call us to find out how Circus Street educates and empowers teams at scale within some of the world’s most successful companies.

  • Digital
  • future
  • industry
  • thought leadership

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