I’m sorry, Steve, but I don’t think you’re seeing the full picture
Steve Harrison is never one to keep his opinions to himself. I worked for him a few years ago and he earned a lot of my respect (while I earned a lot less than the going freelance rate). So it’s only right that I respond to his full page article in Campaign this week.
You see, Steve has some good points. In short, he’s saying that as an industry we have learned a lot about people’s behaviour, what they respond to and how to motivate them. And it would be foolish for us to be “throwing the baby that it’s taken nearly 100 years to nurture out with the analogue bathwater.” I agree with all of that. But I also think it’s a sweeping and unfair statement to claim that the industry is guilty as charged.
As Creative Director at Poke, my main focus is the bright new world of digital – which is apparently the area at fault. And from my achingly-trendy point of view in Shoreditch, I just don’t see it. I know that Steve worked in a big agency group for a few years before he was exiled from the industry, so I can only assume that his point of view has been coloured by that experience. But I actually think Steve has maybe misunderstood what people have been saying and has misinterpreted realism as barbarism.
Quite simply, people relate to each type of media differently. And these relationships are evolving over time. The new area of digital requires a new bunch of rules and a few of the old advertising rules just don’t work in pixel-town. These new rules aren’t by any means a wholesale replacement of the old ones – they are just a set of addendums and revisions.
And our work is never done. The new speed of change requires constant reassessment. Take online display advertising, for instance. Figures show that it’s becoming less and less effective as time goes by. Look at TV advertising that just isn’t reaching the audience it used to, can be edited out of recorded programmes and is losing its place as the key channel of influence. And look at the growing hostility towards DM from consumers, government and local councils alike.
You see, Steve, the issue here is not the change in the industry – it’s the change in consumer behaviour.
Many of these apparent barbarians who are supposedly trampling disrespectfully on Bernbach’s grave are in fact smart visionaries who are constantly having to rewrite their own rules to fit in with a rapidly evolving audience. Three years ago people sent viral videos as attachments in emails – now we just point to YouTube. Last year Facebook apps were considered a great customer engagement tool – this year they’re a no-no. At present, the internet is something you mainly access from a computer – in a couple of years it’s more likely to be through your mobile.
The landscape, culture and capabilities of digital is ever-changing and the audience is developing in line with it. The most powerful marketing method is no longer talking at people – it’s engaging with them. Communication is no longer one way – it’s two way. Companies now need to stop being precious about their brands but instead share them with their audience. The amazing ways you can now reach people were unthinkable 10 years ago.
Yes, people are the same creatures with the same motivations as ever. They’re still as greedy, lazy, selfish, insecure, horny and vain as ever. All the learnings from the past are still relevant. But the truly dangerous Philistine-ism would be to overlook the changes in audience behaviour and try to talk to people as if the internet was never invented.