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Digital Years are like Dog Years

Digital years being like dog years (one human = seven dog), 84 years ago, I edited an APG book called The Communications Challenge – all about the coming change that would be wrought by the digital revolution. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube did not exist – and Google had yet to become a verb.

Can you remember what life was like before the arrival of these empowering platforms? Me neither.

How did we see the challenge way back then? In a nutshell – fragmentation in media and huge increases in data would challenge existing effectiveness thinking and especially the primacy of TV advertising. The smart strategist would raise his/her eyes to a bigger prize and build holistic models of influence & behaviour. The smart client would like a zero-based budgeting approach and deploy resources where the best returns where to found for both reputation and sales.


Fast forward 84 years and I find myself listening to an excellent talk from Stuart Bowden of MEC. It’s ground hog day. The challenge and opportunity for strategists and clients appear to be the same.

Why then hasn’t it happened and could things be different now? As Stuart wisely pointed out we might yet be on the cusp of change as we over estimate change in the short term and underestimate it in the long term. A consultant buying an ad agency might (this time around) presage a new model. I have my doubts.

Here’s why

1. Crisis what crisis? You need a good crisis to bring about change. Read Binet and Field latest work for the IPA and you find that TV advertising is in rude health. Sure, you need better and better media research to track down your audiences- but that has always been true – and available.

2. Enter Professor Kahnemann. It is very difficult to build a credible model of influence without taking account of our subconscious choices and in particular the law of the social proof. And mass media (i.e. publicly or socially consumed media) are still powerful tools for doing this- not the only ones I grant you, but well tried and tested.

3. It’s complex. To build a credible model of influence you need considerable strategic firepower that integrates online data, sales data, media and psychological models. So a big investment is needed – probably ahead of revenue. The task then is not just to evaluate a paid for media campaign but to build a picture of a whole brand economy in which everything communicates. And we all know where that leads. Economists may have big foreheads – but that is no guarantee they will get it right.

4. Most clients are not set up to buy it. You need clients with a complete customer view -covering innovation, service delivery, corporate ethics and marketing communications- and the power to move budgets around. And with the time to effect radical change ….

I do hope I am wrong. 84 years ago, I thought there was a brilliant opportunity for Account Planners to be true partners with clients in the pursuit of brand effectiveness.

Julian Saunders

Founder. The Joined Up Company Ltd.

Twitter: @jmks

My blog is

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