Having voluntarily adopted the position of bringing attention to some of the exaggeration inflating the rapid rise of the influence of digital channels, some in the digital community have attempted to position me as a dinosaur, a Luddite and an old man. None of which is surprising, nor does it inflict any harm on me or my reputation, because clients know what they get from me. Each and every brief needs to be approached on its individual merits and a tailored solution applied, combining any number of channels. Frequently stuff gets left out as resources are nearly always insufficient to do justice to the objectives, but that’s a challenge every good marketing services agency relishes.
This debate really isn’t about which channels are dominating attention or ad spend – that content is only useful in providing an objective measure of sorts to substantiate positions adopted. The issue for me is that too many digital-first or digital pure play service providers are beating the digital drum as if it is a panacea to marketers’ multiple challenges. As previously demonstrated in this column, digital is far from a single channel in any event, but there’s a strong tendency for digital players to tribalise and generalise – and this is not good for the industry.
Jarred Cinman is the chair of the IAB, the recently rebranded and updated version of the DMMA. As the chairperson of an organisation claiming to represent the broad interests of the entire digital marketing and media community, one would expect him to be responsible in the dissemination of information. Last week Cinman tweeted, “Digital surpasses TV ad revenue in the US. Here is the data to prove it. iab.net/adrevenuereport”. I was intrigued, as I am familiar with these numbers and this just felt wrong. So I followed the link and viewed the report only to find that Cinman had misrepresented the data. The digital category has indeed surpassed broadcast television, but not television as a whole, which includes cable. The TV category ad spend in the US is $74.5 billion, while Internet (read digital category) is $42.8 billion. The data isn’t important here, but the principle is.
Why would Cinman misrepresent the data? Surely he’s numerate and capable of reading simple data sheets accurately? It leads me to the natural conclusion that it was a deliberate misrepresentation. It is precisely this kind of behaviour that got me banging this drum in the first instance. It appears that elements of the digital community are so desperate for validation that they resort to mistruths. This behaviour is deeply concerning for the media and marketing profession, and I will call it what it is for as long as the market needs to hear it: unprofessional and unethical.
You may well be thinking that I’m nitpicking. Perhaps I am but I maintain that credibility is everything in the services profession, and when one player, particularly one representing the broader industry, diminishes his or her credibility it affects all of us. I put it to you (with apologies to Barry Roux) that many people would read only that tweet and not bother to check the data. That’s where misrepresentation leads to common fallacies and misunderstanding. Our industry deserves better.
The IAB uses a company called Effective Measure for online measurement data. The managing director of that company is a digital evangelist who goes by the name of Alan Morrissey. Morrissey is South African born but spent a decade in the UK in the same field. He recently commented on an article of mine as follows: “Justin argued that Generations gets 8 million viewers, which is fine but how much spending power do those eight million have? Facebook, Google and Twitter get over eight million users a day and the majority of them are upper LSM.”
This comment is yet another demonstration of the wilful ignorance that prevails within some leadership positions in the digital-first space. I challenge Morrissey to ask Unilever, Vodacom, Shoprite, Tiger Brands or any of the top 100 SA brands “but how much spending power do those 8 million have?” and emerge with any respect. Besides the inanity of comparing television audiences with Google and Facebook, it’s a facile and sanctimonious statement that belies an ignorance of fundamental economic principles, let alone marketing ones. Yet this man claims to represent the gold standard in measurement, and the IAB endorses him.
These two little examples highlight a major issue in the SA marketing fraternity – the desperate one-upmanship deployed by some to curry favour and the corralling of minds around a segment of the marketplace that has ready access to broadband level internet. This segment, while massively important to marketers, should not be favoured at the expense of the much larger middle and lower income segments.
If digital marketing is to grow at the rate that the digital community claims it will, then perhaps that very same community should pay some attention to the eight million viewers of every episode of Generations and the 5.5 million daily readers of the Daily Sun instead of treating them like second class citizens of little economic value.
Justin McCarthy is group managing director of the TBWA\Group\Durban