Of grey hair, digital advertising and brand building

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Do oldies from the advertising world add value to digital agencies? That was the question asked recently in a trade magazine. Herewith my unsolicited views on that related issues:

Age has got nothing to do with quality of ideas: yes it is a cliche, but that’s the plain truth. The common fallacy is that people who are experienced (read, 40+) cannot come up with ideas which appeal to the youth. Some believe that only youngsters can ‘get’ new media and come up with ideas which work in them. Not true. There are examples to the contrary across popular media, including advertising. There cannot be an extreme position on both counts.

‘Those were the days’ syndrome exists with some oldies: some of those with 20+ years of experience in advertising still live in the past. It is common to hear the ‘those were the days’ refrain in advertising, especially after a couple of drinks (‘and that’s how happened in 1992!’). Again, this syndrome is true across popular media. Nothing wrong with it except that, in my view, it creates barriers to adopting new developments. I have seen many experienced folk who were (maybe still are) dismissive of social media & tech’s impact on advertising and just refuse to embrace it fully. Very few of them have taken to practicing new media fully – be it in terms of taking to writing personal blogs, using social media or learning to code. Most of the experienced lot pay lip service to using digital to solve their client’s business problems. In my opinion, it shows in agency structures, use of YouTube as a long-format TVC, equating digital campaign with social media driven campaigns and such like.

New age ‘digital’ agencies and brand strategy: until now, there were two kinds of strategy: an overall brand strategy and then a communication strategy to achieve that. Agencies were largely involved in the latter, perhaps more towards the execution. And then a ‘digital strategy’ came into being with clients handing over that mandate to socialist social media agencies or divisions of their mainline agency. The decision was perhaps influenced by the belief (mistakenly or otherwise) that youngsters ‘get’ Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter and such like because they use it.

Separation between advertising and ‘digital’ is artificial but unlikely to go away soon. Some of the guys on the pure play digital side of communication need some grounding in brand strategy. This is not meant to be a slight, but they are unlikely to be have been part of teams which devised an overall brand strategy. They are more likely to have plunged into ‘advertising’ with what passes off as digital – mostly the tactical stuff – hashtag campaigns, Facebook posts and so on. Being a community manager of a brand overseeing the day’s hashtag campaign, make it trend (yay!) and respond to posts is only a small piece of a brand’s activity. Those who have grown up in traditional advertising have a better chance of being exposed to a holistic picture of what it takes to create preference for a brand and be part of brand building activities. The two – solid, brand building work which makes great use of new media don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Look at some of the work coming out of agencies like W+K or Droga5 (who incidentally don’t have specialist digital divisions) – they all make fantastic use of new media yet are grounded in solid brand strategy.

In that context, the oldies from advertising can potentially add value to new age ad agencies by bringing in a brand building perspective.

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