The Fate of Digital Advertising

Since discovering it recently, I’ve really enjoyed the Monday Note blog. Today’s post by Frédéric Filloux, The lethal self-complacency of advertising, makes some bold statements that are hard not to agree with.

He begins:

Is advertising the next casualty of the on-going digital tsunami’s? For now, advertising looks like the patient who developed an asymptomatic form of cancer without realizing how sick he is. Such behavior usually results from excessive confidence in one’s body past performance, mixed with a state of permanent denial and a deep sense of superiority, all aided by a complacent environment. The digital graveyard is filled with the carcasses of utterly confident people who all shared this sense of invincibility. The music industry or, to some extent, the news business built large mausoleums for themselves. Today, the advertising industry is working on its own funeral monument.

And I think the argument he makes is super-valid. Specifically, I’m drawn to his points that the digital ad space is lacking creative talent, produces poor design, and (what I see as their biggest problem) has so much inertia (and, by implication, ingrained hierarchy and rigid process) that they can’t innovate.

Last week I read the NYTimes article A Digital Boot Camp to Groom Talent for Agencies about Boulder Digital Works at the University of Colorado, Boulder. The program was set up in response to the needs expressed by ad agencies who were unable to find interactive talent. But the school offers just a certificate, not a degree. And their courses/sessions seem focused on immediate skills and needs. Not the outsider design thinking approach that advertising needs.

Some of the school’s guest speakers have put decks from their talks online. Amongst the more interesting (even if these are topics we hear regularly from agencies) was Edward Boches on how agencies must transform to digital and (at a more detailed level) Gareth Kay describing the fate of the traditional creative brief.

And it’s not to say there isn’t interesting stuff happening. Take a look at these recent advertising Webby winners: Nike Chalkbot and VW’s The Fun Theory.

But, as I posted in I want the good times back, these types of experiences feel old-fashioned. It’s time for the ad world to a) figure out a way to attract the outsiders who can approach advertising with a fresh perspective and do innovative work, and b) be open to the experiments (and failures) that will lead to great work. The field needs to be willing to accept revolution and to change.

Nike Chalkbot
VW's The Fun Theory