The sceptic’s guide to digital marketing

Why good digital marketing means doing things  the old fashioned way

Has internet advertising been a failure? That doesn’t sound like an overly dramatic question when you consider headlines like “Why Ad Tech Is the Worst Thing That Ever Happened to Advertising” and “The new dot com bubble is here: it’s called online advertising”.

From an industry perspective, there’s no question that we need to take a hard look at what our digital campaigns actually achieve and whether they bring real value to our clients.

The more you know…

Anyone with experience in online marketing knows how easy it is to bamboozle a client with buzzwords and statistics. “We’ve tweaked the funnel to lower the bounce rate and improve the CPM. Your campaign is doing really well.”

And ironically, it’s sometimes the savviest, most hard-nosed clients that are most susceptible to bamboozlement. 

They want to see hard numbers. Proof of success. And you can tell them “we split tested – check the numbers – and managed to get your CTR up 20% q/r, see this chart” and they’ve got something concrete to show their board. But as we all know, nothing lies like statistics.

That’s just a random example. And if you really did manage to get your client’s click-through rate up without increasing their budget, that could be a promising start. But how did you do it? Clickbait that doesn’t align with your client’s core values? Higher CPC? Targeting an easy-to-influence audience outside the client’s target market? 

Did you achieve any strategic goals? And did you do it in a sustainable way? 

Because if not, your client will notice eventually. Not right away. Maybe not even consciously. But eventually, they’re going to get fed up. Or something just won’t feel right about the direction the campaign is going. Or the CEO is going to start asking the marketing team some hard questions (usually: “why aren’t we making any money off all this ad spend?”).

And it may be hard to swallow because this industry is tough and competitive enough as it is, but it’s your job to educate your client about what all those fancy digital tools can really do and what it takes to make them work.

An algorithm is not a strategy

As creatives, we got into this business to … well, to be creative. And it’s not just for our own amusement. There’s plenty of evidence showing that creative advertising is more effective than non-creative advertising

That flash of inspiration. The spark of insight that lets you communicate a brand’s essential strengths in a seamless, fun, fresh, striking instant. It’s an intangible concept (if you’re a creative, you know what I’m talking about) with very concrete commercial results.

And, of course, we’re not sitting around making art for its own sake. Creativity has to be part of a strategy, and that strategy needs to be constantly evaluated and tweaked. The fundamentals of advertising don’t suddenly disappear because Facebook wants you to pivot to video, or whatever. 

So sure, any digital agency worth its salt needs to be absolutely on top of the current measuring and reporting methods. You need to know how to make those algorithms work for you. And if you don’t, all the creativity in the world will count for very little.

But that’s only half the deal. If you want to cut through an overcrowded space, filled with dodgy metrics and dubious advertising technologies, you need to produce work that clearly and authentically communicates your client’s brand message.

Which means going back to the creative principles that lead you into this business in the first place.