Online Bravery, Offline Arrogance

Whenever you think the struggle between on- and offline agencies can’t get any worse, it just keeps going, like that drum-beating bunny.

Now that it’s conference season, marketing pundits, experts, and charlatans are extolling the death of this and the rise of that. Yes, I’m afraid I’m one of them.

Each year, a new buzz question is posed. A couple years ago it was about measurement; another year, it was whether to use video. Then it was how to use video and how much it costs.

This year, the question is: How are you working with offline agencies? The topic has always been the cause célèbre for all online folks who work in the concept and production trenches. But is this really an issue any more? Has a silent sea change taken place in the industry?

It’s hard to say, but we’re probably just finishing the middle stage when everything seems to be standing still. Things will now accelerate very fast. With all the online conferences in full bloom, online is getting the lion’s share of press. Though I try to convince myself otherwise, things are what they used to be.

A recent blog post about Nike parting ways with Wieden + Kennedy because of W+K’s lack of digital focus expresses a lot of the ad world’s madness and arrogance, making it look bolder and rawer than ever. Sad to say, it’s not wrong.

Tribal DDB CEO Matt Freeman (disclosure: he runs the company I work for) made some very pointed comments in the post on the situation: “The thing is all these things look good on paper but so did communism…. Traditional ad people are in favor of integration as long as they are in control. It still comes down to who reports to who, and egos.”

Underneath, there’s an optimistic message. Throwing down this gauntlet is a good thing. Freeman’s point is crystal clear: at every level, we must stop playing the new game with an old strategy.

Regardless of what the world, or any offline agency, says, online is maturing. Its voice has stopped cracking, and it’s growing an inch every month. Soon it will loom large in the world of marketing ideas. And yes, dear offline agencies, it will start asking for the car keys and lamenting the fact you don’t understand it anymore.

Must it be this way? Why can’t we all just get along?

Anger, denial, and acceptance are the three stages of most civil forms of conflict and discourse. This is no exception. Things will continue to get uglier until the money stops flowing to the king.

Amid this sword-rattling, online people are busy. There are too few to go around, and too much to do.

Where’s the user in all this ruckus? They don’t give a tinker’s cuss about what ad people fight about. They wish we’d just destroy one another so ordinary people can take over the airwaves and networks.

While online fights with offline, the user, fueled by technology, may gain a better understanding of how to render all current forms of advertising obsolete.

The concept of the People’s Republic of Advertising as new industry is as close to mentally challenged as you can get. If everyone could do everyone else’s job, it’d be a pretty boring world after a few minutes.

Online advertising will change. And three things will lead the way: measurement, the idea, and the user.

Simple as this seems, we remain focused only on the idea stage, and we’re just beginning to understand the other two. Ultimately, all three working together should continually optimize content, execution, and engagement. A sort of living strategy driven by data, if you will.

Meanwhile, I’ll settle for being a little cynical, a little crazy, and hopelessly positive we’ll get this worked out before I have to sip my lunch through a cup.

Meet Dorian at Search Engine Strategies April 10-13 at the Hilton New York in New York City.

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