Now that everything is digital, the argument goes, isn’t the very idea of digital as a distinct marketing discipline redundant?
The good folk at adam&eveDDB certainly think so. The award-winning creative agency has removed the word digital from all job titles, rebranding director of digital Alex Hesz as executive interactive director.
The logic behind the decision seems irrefutable. We live in a world where digital is as ubiquitous as electricity, and no brand feels the need to appoint a chief electricity officer. As the always-quotable columnist Mark Ritson puts it: "If you accept the premise of digital marketers within your company, what exactly do your non-digital marketeers do… wear knee socks and smoke pipes?"
And if the idea of digital marketers is redundant, then what’s the point of a digital agency? After all, if everything is digital now, then why do clients need to pay for a specialist digital partner? Given my role at the UK’s biggest independent digital agency, it probably won’t surprise you to hear that I’m sceptical.
There’s more than a whiff of self-interest in creative agencies wishing away digital as a passing fad. If we can all agree that digital isn’t really a thing any more, then we can go back to the way things were – with advertising and media in the lead agency roles, and the big idea restored to its rightful place at the head of the table.
More fundamentally, however, I think there’s a flaw in the argument. The idea that digital is just a subset of marketing – an executional specialism, rather than a strategic imperative – underestimates the truly transformative impact of technology.
Because the truth is that marketing is just a subset of digital. Technology is transforming the environment in which businesses operate. Yes, digital is changing the way that brands connect with customers. But it’s also changing the way businesses connect with their staff, their suppliers and their stakeholders. It’s changing the context in which the business exists.
Digital agencies like ours have a remit that extends far beyond the marketing function. Our work ranges from managing business-critical infrastructure to advising on cultural change. I wouldn’t dream of telling adam&eveDDB how to shoot a stunningly effective TV spot. But I’d prefer to work with a digital expert if the brief demands rethinking the transactional platform that will turn that brand awareness into satisfied customers.
I’m all in favour of integrated marketing, with clients and agencies alike working across increasingly meaningless silos. But given the current state of play and the relentless pace of change, the need for digital expertise is greater than ever.
Digital is dead. Long live digital.
Jon Davie is UK CEO at Zone. He tweets @JonDavie