Stay calm, it’s just digital and we’re talking about it through print 25th February 2016


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Separating digital from the core agency that handles a company’s brand strategy and its creative communication is a crime, writes Mounir Harfouche.

Digital, what a term. It changed the world, created panic, caused debate after debate and shifted approaches. It embarrassed people, but also created icons. It empowered and influenced it led to so many boring repetitive conferences and most importantly it created a new generation of industry philosophers and many many Einsteins. Sadly, I am being one of them in this essay. Nevertheless, I will talk about what’s on my mind and that is very basic, honestly.

I asked my 11-year-old twin daughters one question. It was about what they think should be done for brand ‘X’?

I got a 30-minute recording of them talking without my interruption. They were spot-on planners and brilliant creative thinkers. They talked social, content, influencers, YouTubers, apps and platforms. Frankly, they blew my mind.

I could use what they talked about and win an account anytime. The funny part is I don’t think that my daughters are advertising geniuses especially. I think that the world of the new generation is massively different than the one that existed 15 years back. The 21st century ‘human breed’ is much richer in term of exposure and capabilities. Their dimensions are more complex and when we think that digital is complicated, they think it’s basic, just like hide and seek used to be for us.

And they are right. We’re complicating it.

Everyone is over-excited due to either the lack of understanding or the opportunity to grow revenues and spend. Most people are doing it wrong.

There are too many theories about who digital should belong to. Is it part of the ‘traditional’ agency, is it part of media, PR or some other specialisation?

I personally believe that all this should be one. The brand, the strategy, the audience and the conversation are all the same.

The world is talking about integration, while most agencies and clients are creating more separations internally and externally through their multi-structured models under the excuse of expertise.

Suddenly each department has its own teams and budgets, profit and loses, request for proposals, and totally independent agendas. Why so?

For me digital is basic, but it’s technically savvy. It’s nothing but an evolution of how we can connect with people. We rely on technology just like everything else in the world today.

The progress of technology allowed us to shorten the gap between people and people, brands and people, information and people. (You can notice that the only constant here are people). Therefore, in my own view, the content still has the same intention but the context differs. It remains about the strategy, the idea and the execution, but you add to it technicality.

And when we talk about content we know that the best, most effective content is born out of insight – and insight is derived from data. What digital can offer is the luxury of instant data analysis that allows us to understand people’s behaviour – their engagement – and therefore have the ability to co-create with them as well as generate more targeted and relevant content dedicated to the right person at the right time.

Data is only valuable for us when it is converted into a genuine insight. It becomes an emotional currency rather than numbers.

It is also very democratic as it is by default an engaging, two-way conversational approach. Therefore people have their say, be it by ignoring or by embracing, and this changes the rules of the game because my daughters can now make or break a brand.

Therefore, brands suddenly had to become more responsible about their purpose, their values and their offering vis-a-vis the audience. They became more aware of their reality and part of the constantly changing environment.

However, turning data into insights requires commitment from clients and agencies, and this commitment goes beyond hiring specialists, it is also a philosophical and financial commitment, which I am confident will see its own return on investment.

Collaboration does not happen with separation, it happens when you bring the right brains, skills and technical people together to create an organic homogeneous eco-system of ideas around one brief. It only works if they live and breathe the brand as one: the collective genius.

That’s why I believe that separating digital from the core agency that handles the brand strategy and its creative communication is a crime. It’s like giving one of your children to the neighbours to raise them.

So in closing, I’d like to invite everyone involved to strengthen the ‘agency’ as we know it, instead of diluting its role. If we bring all the investments that are being spread thinly across so-called ‘specialisations’ back into the ‘agency’, we’ll see a major evolution of both the brand and the product.

Advertising – be it digital, print, TV, outdoor or activation – is and will always be about transferring information between brands and people, and now we are lucky to have ‘digital’ making this transfer even more efficient and interesting.

Let’s make advertising make sense again. Let’s bring authenticity through innovation and technology by keeping the idea, the articulation and the craft at its core. Keep it in the hands of the creative ones.

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