Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Published in Nov-Dec 2012

Just another medium

Why ad agencies are best placed to provide digital solutions.

When we think about the digital marketing sphere most of us do not picture traditional advertising agencies, rather we probably think of specialist digital or interactive agencies as fitting the mould.

That may have been true until recently, but the thinly veiled truth is that more and more advertising agencies are beginning to embrace the digital realm as clients become more serious about the medium. In the past, most digital work was campaign only, and a lot of brands did not follow the ‘always on’ philosophy. This has all changed now, everyone wants to be on 24/7 and this requires something that only advertising agencies can deliver – total communication integration.

When you walk into the creative department of an advertising agency, typically you will see someone working on a press ad sitting next to someone working on a TVC concept, sitting next to someone working on a radio script. It makes sense for all of these people to work together, as they are working on the same campaign for the same brand, so why would digital be any different? You don’t ask one agency to make your TVC, another to make your press ad and yet another to create your outdoor. So why would you separate digital from the integrated communication mix?

Two arguments come to mind. The first is that advertising agencies lack the technical expertise to create digital assets. The second is that advertising agencies do not understand digital because it is not just another medium. You can make the same case as people did for media buying agencies and activation agencies being separate entities. But guess what? A lot of media planning as well as activation has started to come back to advertising agencies on a global level.

Yes, not all advertising agencies have the technical expertise to create digital assets, but this is not a big problem; all they have to do is acquire a strong team of developers. Given that this is a financial investment, the strength of the development team will differ from agency to agency. In fact, most of the digital agencies that are popping up now have small tech teams and focus more on social media, which almost nullifies the tech argument and creates the argument that by only focusing on social media, half of the digital possibilities for a brand are left off the table.

When you begin talking about knowledge of the digital medium, pure digital and interactive agencies have a head start because they have been doing it for longer, but what do we really mean when we say ‘digital medium’?

When we take the first leap into digital we are usually concerned with all that is tactical. What can we do on Facebook? How can we bring traffic to our product pages? Which is the best place to put banner ads? Answering these questions has been the laser focus of digital agencies and they answer those questions well. But what do we do once we have got past all that? What do we do once we have our social pages, our site and our apps? What do we do when we want to connect with consumers and influence them? After all the only reason we market is so that someone will go and buy our product or service.

This is where advertising agencies rule supreme. We are the kings and queens of consumer insight and understanding; there is no one in the world who understands the consumer connect better than we do.

As I stated earlier, when you walk into an advertising agency you will see a slew of creative professionals sitting together in an environment which encourages creativity, and you will not find this mix of people in any other type of organisation, simply because our job is to be creative. This is not to say that digital agencies are not creative, far from it. But what makes the creativity that advertising agencies bring to the table unique is our decades of experience in ‘building brands’. And at the end of the day this is what we do regardless of the medium.

We have built brands using newspapers, television, radio and billboards – digital is the next medium where we will place our building blocks on.

As advertising professionals we know digital is a ‘very different medium’, but so was radio when we moved from print, and so was television when we moved from radio. The big difference is that digital is an instant two-way communication versus one-way communication and a delayed limited response. But even during our journey through mediums we have always kept brand building at heart and favoured integrated communication across all channels.

In a world where we are all so connected wouldn’t it be awkward to see a particular campaign direction on ATL and another on digital? Where would the connect come in?

While it is possible to get an advertising agency to work with a digital agency to keep everything unified when it comes to major campaigns, it becomes increasingly difficult to do it from a brand manager’s point of view when we approach digital as ‘always on’ – and digital should always be on. When ATL communication and digital communication are both being handled by the creative agency you have seamless integration in your campaigns and in your brand building journey. As far as operations are concerned everything is under one roof which is a huge plus for any organisation.

We talked about the creative advantage of working with an advertising agency but another huge benefit is the strategic planning department which specialises in brand planning, and when you have planners and creatives working together on brands you get truly 360 degree campaigns.

Some agencies have moved faster than others on a global and local level. We have found that starting from scratch internally was a much more viable option than buying or partnering with a digital agency. Having everything digital at the tips of our fingers allows us to respond faster and more effectively than others – it helps when someone who has years of brand knowledge for a certain brand is behind the digital as opposed to someone who has no clue what the brand stands for and hasn’t seen it grow.

When I tell my advertising counterparts that I’m the Chief Digital Officer they often ask, ‘do you sit next to the chief television officer?’ The answer is of course ‘no, we don’t have a chief television officer.’ The introduction of digital specialists within advertising agencies is to take everyone forward, and that shows commitment and drive.

In some advertising agencies you may find specialist planners and creatives for digital, but eventually everything will become integrated within agencies and you won’t find people who only work on digital, rather everyone will be working on digital as it will be another medium in the channel mix.

Agencies are moving onto the digital forefront a lot faster than before and this is good news for brands as we bring a massive arsenal of communication tools and experience to the table all under one roof.

Aamir Rauf is Manager, Lowe Digital.