Pat Langton: What really is "digital"?

What is digital (1).jpgA blog written by Pat Langton, creative director/partner of Magnum Opus Partners, Melbourne

The truth is, everything is digital now.

You can stream your favourite TV shows to an endless series of devices as well as TVs, digital radio is on air in over 40 countries, all publications are online, even outdoor billboards are digital now. People consume media - and the ads embedded in it - from all over the world, in all mediums.

There's really no such thing any more as "digital" vs "non-digital". It's all digital. And every marketing company needs to know how to create in it.
Now, before we go any further, I know bits of this article run the risk of getting under some people's skin - those busily trying to maintain the mythology of the digital world, mainly - but that's really not the intention.

It's simply to say, those "digital agencies" we all heard about ten years ago? Well, they really have no meaning anymore. Not in a world where everything is digital. Yes, of course we need people who understand how digital delivery of content works. Of course we do. But very soon they're going to be in every kind of marketing consultancy if they aren't already.

All agencies are digital agencies now, or they're out of business.

What's more, the word 'digital' still gets thrown around a lot in the ad world, but there's no proper description of what it actually means. Is it websites, HTML banners, SEO, social media or all of the above?

Whatever we call "digital", and as always, we need to remember that the platform is just where the idea lives, but it's not the idea itself.

Bring our focus back to the idea and remember that a great idea can sit anywhere ... billboards, buses, TV in all its forms, cinema, mobile, radio, print and yes, "digital".

And if everything is "digital" now, then every agency is a digital agency, so the term 'digital agency' ceases to have any real meaning, right?

Well, yes and no. There will always be a place for highly specialist advisors, and great work does comes from being single minded, so there's always a place for specialists in any industry. But "digital agencies" asserting "We're the only people who know how to do this stuff" will either have to justify that bold statement, or disappear.

They will have to become, in effect, more and more specialist, as general consultancies consume the knowledge around "digital".

Just as the Apple Mac made typesetting machines an antiquated object of curiosity, so the ubiquity of digital delivery makes the generalist digital agency look out of date already.

Yes, we will still need people, in effect, who can make the digital space really sing. After all, the  first digital banner ad appeared over 20 years ago and despite huge investment it's never really lived up to its promise. By contrast, the first official TV advert appeared in 1941 and the disruption it had on the radio industry was profound. "Digital" really hasn't done the same to TV advertising, has it? In fact, in reality, it's just become another "support medium" to TV.

Why? Well, just as cars kept radio relevant for consumers, homes are going to do the same for TV. People come home from work, eat dinner and watch TV (stream, multiple devices, "catch up" or traditional, it's all TV). People's habits generally don't change all that much, and if they do, it takes generations to do so. "Looking at a screen delivering a story" is going to be with us for a very, very long time yet.

So this is not an attack on digital, it's more a realisation - a recalibration - of what digital actually means in today's world. Connecting with people is essentially the job of all marketeers, so we simply have to find the best medium in which to do that for the target market, digital or otherwise. It might be digital, or it might not. We can't assume it is, just 'cause we haven't talked about much else for ten years.

Digital isn't automatically "magic". It's just, well, digital.

Nothing's changed all that much, people haven't changed all that much, there's just more platforms to reach those people.

The idea is still king. We forget that at our peril.

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