Look… It's Interactive Guy

I meant to be writing about how to convert ‘opt-out’ to ‘opt-in’ this week. That’s what I promised last week. But I’ve changed my mind. I’ll write about that next week.

Right now, I want to cover something while it’s still fresh in my mind.

It’s about advertising agencies.

Last week, I took part in a ‘Soap Box’ event hosted by the Direct Mail Council of the Canadian Marketing Association in Toronto.

It was a great event. Six of us sat on a center podium, surrounded by an audience of about 400 direct marketers. My five companions were all well-known and respected within the Canadian direct marketing industry. I was the only ‘online’ person on the podium and was known to two people in the audience. (Thanks for coming, Mom and Dad.)

Anyway. We had a lively, moderated discussion about direct marketing, advertising and the future of the world. I particularly enjoyed listening to Roger Dunbar of Disney and Fransi Weinstein of BBDO Response.

But a couple of things struck me.

First, based on 1 1/2 hours of discussion and the effects of a couple of drinks, I got the impression that the Canadian direct marketing industry is hopelessly behind the times in its understanding of direct marketing online and the impact it will have on direct mail. Maybe 1 1/2 hours isn’t long, so I hope I’m wrong.

Second, and I don’t think this just applies to Canada, it seems to me that the advertising industry misunderstands the nature of the web.

Let me explain.

The moderator and my companions kept referring to me as the ‘interactive’ guy. They looked to me for an ‘interactive’ perspective.

This puzzled me at first. What’s an ‘interactive guy’? Nobody calls me an ‘interactive guy.’ Then it occurred to me. This is ad agency speak. You get general advertising guys, direct marketing guys and interactive guys.

Ha! There was me thinking I was a business-person, marketer and writer online. But no, I’m a small and probably unwanted division of an integrated ad agency.

Here’s the background.

In the old days everyone was a ‘general advertising guy.’

Then big companies got excited about the fact that when they spent money on direct marketing, they could measure responses. Well, big companies do love to measure stuff, so they started to spend more dollars on direct marketing and less on general advertising.

What’s a big, general ad agency to do? Easy. Buy the direct marketing agencies and offer their client companies an integrated, one-stop service. Gotta stop those direct marketing dollars from leaving the building.

Same with retail advertising, event planning, and so on.

Then this darned web thing comes along. Just when the big ad agencies had spent all that money on acquiring the direct marketing folks, now their clients are getting in a lather about the World Wide Web.

Dang. Better buy a bunch of folk who know what HTML means (and let’s hope it doesn’t stand for Hard To Make a Living).

So now all the big ad agencies have an Interactive Division. Cool. But there’s a small problem here.

The creation of Interactive Divisions within ad agencies appears to me to imply that the World Wide Web is an advertising medium. Or, at best, a sales channel.

“Yes, Mr. Client, we can offer you a seamless campaign that comprises the integrated use of TV, direct mail and the World Wide Web.”

Well, yes, you can place advertising on the web. It can support your offline efforts.

But that’s a little like saying that a car is a device for lighting cigarettes — just because it has a cigarette-lighter in the dash.

I have a feeling that a lot of agencies are going to get bitten in the butt if they for a moment believe that the Net is just another advertising medium.

Here’s what I think.

I think that as more and more companies build their marketing models into their online business plans — the less they’ll need traditional advertising agencies.

The advertising industry is built on an offline marketing infrastructure that has stayed pretty constant for many decades.

That infrastructure is now being unbolted very quickly, and I think that a lot of agencies haven’t noticed yet.

Then again, two drinks are a lot for me. So I may have gotten the wrong impression.

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