What Exactly Defines a Digital Campaign Nowadays?

I’ve had the pleasure of being on a few awards juries over the last few months. Given I’m supposed to know about digital, these have been juries specifically related to digital and mobile. Rather than talk about the one I’m currently connected to, I’ll make reference to the last one I participated on – Digital and Mobile Jury at the Cristal Festival.

There was a lot of discussion with fellow jury members on that particular panel about what, exactly, nowadays constitutes a digital entry and, more specifically of course, what makes an entry worthy of an award.

The reason that we’re having these discussion now is that digital can conveniently be regarded as a channel when it comes to submitting an award and this can often be coupled with the added allure and misdirection of some vanity metrics. Essentially, what we have now are award entries that look a bit like this:

The insight we identified was that people like pictures of animals (or some other rather average insight) – and then we (somehow) got people to post pictures of animals on Sina Weibo (insert other social media channels – Chinese ones are good) etc – Results: thousands of people posted, shared and liked the pictures so please give us an award. (NB. Vanity metrics on Chinese social media channels can be particularly compelling because the numbers are huge and lots of people have no meaningful benchmark with which to evaluate them)

This over simplified and, in many cases, rather unfair description above illustrates the problem. Any idea now however unimaginative or non-insightful that is communicated and distributed via digital (normally social channels) can and is categorized as a “digital” piece of work.

Milka’s “Last Square” was submitted to the Digital and Mobile jury at the Cristal Festival where I was judging. There is no doubt in my mind that it’s a very worthy piece of work and the insights leading to the idea were excellent. There was a small digital element to the campaign but calling it a “digital” campaign or citing it for an award in a digital category is, I think, questionable.

So, we have at least 2 types of entries creeping in to digital award categories (and in some cases dominating the lists): those based on poor to average ideas but with perceived and often largely un-quantified (when it comes to the bottom lines) big results usually focused on vanity metrics. And those that have a great insightful idea at the heart for which digital is merely a (very obvious) distribution channel and enabler.

My question is where are the digital entries where the idea and the strategy are anchored around and driven from the unique opportunities that digital now offers us? Where are the ideas that simply couldn’t have existed five or ten years ago? And, having asked this, are these even legitimate questions or am I just being unreasonable?

Maybe the role of digital now is to allow hundreds of thousands of people to see and like averagely inspired pictures or maybe it’s to facilitate the sharing of a truly great idea as in the case of Milka. Both have their validity I suppose but I’m wondering if, when it comes to truly “digital” award-winning campaigns, shouldn’t we be striving for something a bit more?

Related reading