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Tom Doctoroff Marketing

Why traditional media isn’t dying — and four other myths of the digital era dispelled

A few years ago, at the Cannes advertising festival, the chair of the judging panel for cyber creative began his opening remarks by declaring, “We are no longer creative people. We are inventors!” I found this proclamation, a portent of my own obsolescence, disconcerting.

In fact, many of us suffer from the disorientation wrought by technological change. Convention has been upended, and the digital world — a universe of bits and bytes, atomistic fragmentation that mocks tradition — is all variables, no constants.

CEOs look to the digital beast itself for salvation, intoxicated by new ways to maximize return on investment. But, contrary to conventional wisdom, “traditional” conceptual thinking is still fundamental to marketing.

Our new mandate: to achieve harmony between timeless brand building truth and the opportunities unleashed by digital technology.

Here are five platitudes we marketers should remember that do not fit the facts:

Myth 1: “Traditional” media is dying. Marketers spend more than $250 billion dollars on broadcast advertising.

Our goal must be to align yin and yang — that is, “top-down” (broadcast) and “bottom-up” (interactive) platforms. If digital and traditional creative are conceived separately, brands lose focus, which confuses people. In addition, each achieves complementary objectives. Top-down shapes preference. Bottom-up deepens engagement — or time spent with an idea — that leads to loyalty.

Myth 2: The “brand idea” is an anachronism. The brand idea is not a static positioning statement. It’s a commercial life force — a product’s soul, invisible but omnipresent. It forges order from chaos as new media burgeon. The brand idea is long-term, a relationship between consumer and brands that remains consistent over time. And relationships are mutual. They are “interactive.” So are digital media. Brand ideas therefore are the underpinning of two-way engagement between consumers and brands.

Some brands get it. In both digital and “traditional media”, Axe deodorant promises “irresistible attraction” to guys looking to score.In both digital and “traditional media,” Coca-Cola transcends the physical plane of quenching thirst to embody “moments of happiness.” If there is no brand idea, engagement devolves into transactional carpet bombing.

Myth 3: Copywriters are dinosaurs. True, technology and creativity must be fused in new ways. The old fashioned partnership between copywriter and art director is indeed approaching its sell-by date. But in a world transformed by digital, today’s marketing needs a similarly cohesive partnership between creatives and experts on today’s broader range of media platforms. One suggestion from R/GA’s Chief Creative Officer Nick Law is for agencies to be populated with pairs of “conceptual distillers” and “systemic designers.” The former ensures a brand’s thematic focus. The latter enables a brand to blossom in the full range of three-dimensional experience.

Myth 4: “Big Data” will save us. Big Data has become invaluable to media buying and planning. Algorithms can target consumers very precisely, in real time and can even predict behavior — for example, which website a surfer will go to next. But good old consumer insights, not data, best answer the question “Why?” Compelling creative is about ideas that motivate people to change behavior. Marketers can’t only think about how to reach consumers, if they lose sight of how to inspire them.

Myth 5: We are all inventors now. New forms of technological engagement are not, in and of themselves, creative ideas. Technology must be harnessed to make ideas more powerful. The Nike+ ecosystem resonates because the because it breathes life into a brand idea. Through technology, “Just do it” is always on. Google Glass makes the world a small place, adding dimension to Google’s mission of “bringing the world together through technology.”

Marketers have always been consumer advocates; they will always be idea masters. And that’s not just reassuring. It is something to be proud of.