Guest post: Interactive agencies need to stop being advertising agencies

Simon van Wyk, MD of HotHouse, is over advertising agencies

I had a bad new media week last week, a bad interactive media week, and a bad social media week.  It’s been coming for some time but it all culminated with ad:tech.  

I’ve been in the interactive media industry since 1994 when we were making CD-ROM titles for the US market. Like many others, I was attracted to the industry because we were given an opportunity to be at the forefront of a new technology.  We were in a position to challenge the status quo and to do something that mattered.  

As an industry the last 15 years have been extraordinary.  The world has changed.  Minnows attacked huge existing businesses and won.  In some cases those traditional businesses are still around. But in many cases they are not.  There are many examples:

  • Why did Brittanica not become Wikipedia? They had a start, they had the content.
  • Why did LexisNexis not become Google? They had a start, they had the content.
  • Why did Trading Post not become eBay?
  • Why did Dymocks not become Amazon?

Too lazy, too stupid, not ready to take a risk?

And the examples go on.  Small businesses have in a short time overtaken and beaten traditional business by changing the game.  To be part of all that has been a privilege.

So what started this rant for me?  Some of it was the plethora of new jargon at ad:tech – some of it was lameness of the examples, and some of it was reading B&T again.  I think the interactive industry wants to be the advertising industry, we think it’s cool.  They have great offices and the parties are fun but they work people like dogs, get treated like shit by their clients and we want to be like them.

Here are a few things that got up my nose:

Brand Dialogue: What a load of crap.  I’ve worked out what it means.  It’s a Flash site with some un-navigable metaphor and takes ages to download.  The interactive industry despise them because we know they are a waste of time.  Most of them get a campaign URL and Google does not take it seriously because it’s new.

Advertising agencies tell their clients it’s part of the brand dialogue and measure hits to the websites.  We never hear bounce rates quoted; that would be embarrassing.   Agencies tell clients they can do some things to help get the Flash site indexed by Google.  But we’re not really telling the truth.  Agencies build them because they are the closest thing to a commercial.  They understand those and clients seem to like them because they’re familiar.

Companies succeeded on the web because they solved a problem: they found a way to facilitate a transaction.  Even Apple, the high water mark of the “brand dialogue” debate, just facilitates transactions.  Everything they do makes it easy to transact.  Despite all the hoo-hah you read about corporate social media, consumers don’t want to talk with brands – we just want the Internet to facilitate an easier way to do business.

We, the interactive industry, know this, we can see it in the numbers.  Why don’t we adopt our own language and help our clients build business on the web?

Social Media: I was at a dinner party.  The people there all used eBay, bought music online, had laptops, iPhones and used BitTorrent for downloading TV series.  I asked if they knew what social media was.  They did not.  Sites I called blogs they called websites.  As far as they are concerned Facebook is a website, LinkedIn is a website, MySpace is a website.

PR agencies are distributing press releases to bloggers and calling it social media.  Banks are getting 50 comments on a blog and talking about it.  In the old days you took your clients to a lunch and got a better return.

In 1997 we built a website called Manhood in conjunction with psychologist/author Steve Biddulph.  We sold the site on and it’s untouched (you can still see it at, so it’s a bit weird now; however, we built in every feature you see in a social media site.  Then it was common sense – now it’s social media.

As marketing people our job is to go where the customers are and find a way to tell them about our product.  We in the interactive industry know where these people are to be found, we know how to engage with them and we do really know what social media is, but we’re dumbing down our business is an attempt to look like an advertising agency.

Posting a few images to Flickr, the TVC to YouTube and putting the URL on the TVC is not really going to work.

Then there was the Naked stunt for Witchery.  The only interesting thing about this was the fact the SMH chose to publish it on the home page.  The interactive industry knows the only measure of success here is, “Did you sell any jackets?” That’s been the mantra of our industry – what’s the outcome – and yet we’re swept up into a cycle of debate on the topic.  It’s presented as an Internet/social media strategy, but it’s neither.

Let’s go back to what we know is true – if it works by delivering commercial value to the client it’s a good thing.  Let’s leave advertising agencies and PR companies to the rest.

FMCG: Every second person we interview wants to talk about our FMCG clients.  Well, we don’t have many.  Now Skittles is kinda interesting, but really who cares.  It’s a sweet.  The purchase decision is made in a store and this is more interesting to the industry than the target market.

There was more traction from the guys putting Mentos in diet Coke than any of this stuff and we, the interactive industry know this but we want to pretend to be advertising agencies.

When I was a kid you had cereal box competitions – collect tokens and win etc.  Most FMCG websites are nothing more.  They are not cool, they are not clever they are not worthy of debate, but they get written up and talked about at conferences like they matter.

Metrics: A friend of mine stopped reporting clicks, conversions, etc. to her client because it raised more questions than she could answer. Clients have been pumping money into TV for years without any real sense of a return. All they ever asked was how did the show rate.

Sometimes we can’t quite measure the impact on sales.  There is often a lot of air between the website and the sale but we can measure everything else.  We, the interactive industry, know how to do this. We’ve worked through the issues for years, but we’re allowing ourselves to be dragged down the reporting on ratings path when we know we can do better.

Media Planning: Rex Briggs, the king of measurement, says most organizations should be spending 20% of their budgets online.  It’s not happening.  Media buyers run the same ads on the major portals despite the fact the interactive industry knows creative wears out quickly. And why don’t we make more creative? Because the media buyers do a deal with the media companies for 16 sizes to fill all sorts of stupid holes.  Instead of running two sizes and rotating creative we get 12 sizes and blow our budget.  The interactive industry knows this is wrong.

Why are we on these portals, anyway?  Sometimes it makes sense, but most of the time it’s because it’s too difficult to do a proper job.  The real engagement is down the other end of the traffic curve – the niche sites where people are spending time and returning regularly.

Media people will tell you it’s because they want their brands associated with the prestigious brands.  What a crock – the interactive industry knows it’s a crock.  Have you seen the “quality advertisers” filling the unsold inventory on the major portals? It makes 3am TV look like quality.

Advertising Agencies: Every single agency in town had the opportunity to own the interactive space.  They had the clients they had the mandate and they blew it.  The top 10 digital services companies in Australia would, I suspect, all be web companies, not agencies.  Just like the Trading Posts of the world, the ad agencies did not grab the opportunity to change.

Some larger organizations use their procurement departments to run the tender and selection process for the advertising agency.  This puts agencies in the same league as stationery, toilet paper and the company car fleet.  They would not dream of doing the same for the legal partner, the strategic consulting partner or the HR consultants.

The interactive industry can avoid this horrible fate, but we need our own sense of pride and culture. We don’t want to talk like agencies, we don’t want to aspire to be part of their magazines; why would any digital person want to be on the Gruen Transfer for example?

It’s time for our industry to re-establish an identity separate from the agencies, to make sure the work we do delivers a real return and to work on things that use our energy and intellect to make a difference for our clients.

I’d like to propose an Interactive Industry Code of Practice:

  1. I will always propose the least expensive, simplest solution to any problem.
  2. I understand Google is the homepage and I will ensure everything I do is sensitive to this fact.
  3. My job is to facilitate business. When I start talking brand dialogue it’s only because I can’t find a way to really add value.
  4. My job is to help you with the interface between your company and the customer on the web. They are using the web for utility; my job is to find that utility wherever it may exist.
  5. We’ll be clear about the returns.
  6. We have a chance to do things better to improve from our learnings.
  7. The Internet has changed the world; let’s make sure we treat it with the respect it deserves.  It took us many years of TV to develop the technology to skip ads.  Let’s not clutter our communities and forums with useless messages that add no value. Consumers want to hear from companies who are relevant to their circumstance; let’s work with that.
  8. Our job is not to sell our ideas to the client.  Our job is to sell the clients product to their customers.

Simon van Wyk also writes on the HotHouse blog and this article can be found there too


  1. Ashley Ringrose
    16 Mar 09
    5:19 pm

  2. Quality rant.

  3. Kate Richardson
    16 Mar 09
    5:20 pm

  4. Whoah Simon, I just had to take a shower after that spray.

    Still, plenty of stuff to chew on. And lots of it very true. We do like to overcomplicate things don’t we?

  5. Ben
    16 Mar 09
    5:34 pm

  6. i think you’ll find most of the cliche’s around brand dialogue and social media are being said by so-called ‘digital natives’.

    good points nonetheless but not sure you’re right on many of them. “It’s time for our industry to re-establish an identity separate from the agencies.” C’mon … that statement sort of contradicts effectively addressing your 7 points directly beneath it.

  7. Zoe Scaman
    16 Mar 09
    5:44 pm

  8. Excellent – i love it!

  9. Chris Jeffares
    16 Mar 09
    5:54 pm

  10. Whoosh. I must admit that I think even the powerhouse Ad industry pioneers and ‘Hall of Famers’ would agree with most of what Simon has to say. Although they often use different terms over the years, the fundamentals are the same.

    – David Ogilvy … “If it doesn’t sell, it isn’t creative.”
    – Lester Wunderman … “Advertising Must Change Behavior, Not Just Attitudes”.

  11. Zoe Warne
    16 Mar 09
    5:55 pm

  12. I’m interested to discuss further how we’d get ad agency participants (eg. digital offshoots such as “[insert-name-and/or-colour-here] Digital” in the interactive industry, to adhere to a code of practice that would initially decimate their revenues?

    It would be a struggle – it will mean admitting to their clients that they have been putting money into a conversion-less black hole. Short term decimation (with the chance to rebuild some credibility) as opposed to medium/long term annihilation. I know what I’d prefer.

    If we can answer that question and provide some transition points to bring them over from the dark side, maybe we might have a chance at an industry which better benefits the clients, which is what we all want in the end – I mean, who pays the bills at the end of the day – we’re all in a better position if they are.

    Good article Simon, I’m going to read more of what you have to say.

  13. Linda Johannesson
    16 Mar 09
    5:57 pm

  14. Feel better now?
    Simon, you’ve made some very astute observations and well-founded critiques..lots of examples, heaps to work on… but so what? We can rant all we want, but where’s the solution? Where’s the resulting action? Where’s the change? What do we DO about it?
    Or are we still stuck in the mindset that it’s enough to vomit from our fingertips, hit “publish”, share our rants and be done with them?
    I think there’s a terrific opportunity to be the combine the best of both worlds – technology and strategy have to connect while keeping the client at the forefront – that’s what I’m focused on.

  15. Chris Pile
    16 Mar 09
    5:58 pm

  16. Great post Simon! I think it would be great to see some support from our industry body along these lines given Guy Gadney’s comments at the awards last Friday.

  17. Oliver Palmer
    16 Mar 09
    6:20 pm

  18. Really enjoyed that post, you are absolutely right, it is our job to get Interactive to make sense and be seen as worthwhile, otherwise it is simply the media transference phenomenon: early TV = radio with pictures, early web = static shopfronts, early Mobile = internet on your phone. Interactive has so much more to offer.

  19. Riley
    16 Mar 09
    6:28 pm

  20. Great post Simon!

    Spot on: “The real engagement is down the other end of the traffic curve – the niche sites where people are spending time and returning regularly.”

  21. Fred Schebesta
    16 Mar 09
    6:36 pm

  22. At last someone had the guts to say this.

    9. I don’t care what price your brother in his bedroom can do it for.

  23. Simon
    16 Mar 09
    7:50 pm

  24. Ben – I’ve looked at your background. I suspect you’re not guilty on any of the points raised.

    Fred – That’s one of my favourites. Particularly after the $200k enterprise license and 6 month implementation of a CRM system.

  25. Steve
    16 Mar 09
    7:59 pm

  26. Jesus, what a show off. What dumb posing.

    Go in peace and be healed of your affliction.

  27. Granleese
    16 Mar 09
    8:11 pm

  28. Very solid rant. Agree with more than half of it too.

    However establishing rules/codes is counterproductive. Remember our industry was founded on breaking them, and still relies heavily on innovation for success.

    The big suck in interactive that has occured over the last 12 months has been from narcissistic social media experts writing endless list after list attempting to tell everyone how to do things ‘the right way’, based entirely on everything other than their own work.

  29. Stan Lee
    16 Mar 09
    8:14 pm

  30. Much to agree and disagree with in this post. Great stuff Simon. The key point for me was the failure of the top ad agencies to own digital. This is worthy a post of its own I think.

  31. Richard
    16 Mar 09
    8:15 pm

  32. I had completely forgotten about the Manhood site – what a blast from the past!

  33. inspiredworlds
    16 Mar 09
    8:22 pm

  34. you’ve got a lot of fire in your words but it also means you are very passionate about interactive / digital as well. interesting read and you make some valid points.

    Your last point is very pertinent: “Our job is not to sell our ideas to the client. Our job is to sell the clients product to their customers”. i think a lot of industries are guilty of this, not just interactive or advertising.

  35. James Breeze
    16 Mar 09
    8:45 pm

  36. Here Here Simon! I concur with Fred!
    After my recent dealings with an agency, you could add:
    “Get Feedback, listen to it and don’t be so bloody self-centred. Balance your creativity with the usability that is expected by users!”

  37. Dominic O
    16 Mar 09
    8:46 pm

  38. There is no doubt that I agree with many aspects of your post. Media planners in Australasia have a serious lack of both insight and accountability.

    However, the question is, Simon, can you walk the talk?

    Let’s see your case studies showing value you have derived from social media platforms.

    Otherwise, you’re no better than any other agency blowhard.

  39. Matthew Delprado
    16 Mar 09
    9:35 pm

  40. I think this article may have changed my career. That’s pretty awesome.

  41. Ben
    16 Mar 09
    9:46 pm

  42. ” Media planners in Australasia have a serious lack of both insight and accountability”

    Might sound like I’m protecting my own turf but would be good to get some rationale behind this statement. The media agencies are often blamed for digital’s woes but I think more often than not the allegations are false.

  43. Alex Wilson
    16 Mar 09
    9:53 pm

  44. /agree on “The real engagement is down the other end of the traffic curve – the niche sites where people are spending time and returning regularly.”

  45. Granleese
    16 Mar 09
    10:07 pm

  46. @Riley @Alex Wilson — disclosure of who you work for would be appropriate lads.

  47. Mark Ashley-Wilson
    16 Mar 09
    10:09 pm

  48. Finally it’s said mate. Nice one.

  49. D
    16 Mar 09
    10:53 pm

  50. Mark, thats a lowe blow.

  51. Reevesy
    16 Mar 09
    10:55 pm

  52. What I like best about this industry is that we already have a culture, a booming one. A culture built on being the outsider noone really liked or had anything in common with, but now who everyone wants to know and be mates with.

    Openness and integrity ftw!

  53. Simon Bloomfield
    16 Mar 09
    11:20 pm

  54. A lot of what Simon is talking about – particularly within his Code of Practice – already exists. It’s called Direct Marketing. And it’s why a few of the more forward thinking of that inclination view digital (or interactive) as a Direct Marketing channel, rather than as an entity unto itself.

  55. Alex Wilson
    16 Mar 09
    11:36 pm

  56. @Granleese Economist, FT, CNN ….niche in Australia.

  57. clive Burcham
    16 Mar 09
    11:42 pm

  58. thankfully, someone who was offered a ‘post’ and didn’t waffle on and on and on………….authentic, hurtfully truthful to an industry that is quite the opposite. it’s incredible how bloody boring we all are, even as we take it up the clacker. good for you simon. good for everyone really.

  59. Andrew D
    17 Mar 09
    12:18 am

  60. Some good points here.

    Good article.

    I can’t stand the “have to have a social media strategy” mantra…..

  61. Eric Weaver
    17 Mar 09
    4:24 am

  62. Simon,

    At a glance, it sounds like you are against: stupid/lazy traditional businesses (perhaps traditional anything), jargon, ad agencies, customer dialogue, commercials, the interactive industry, PR firms, social media sites, bad media planning, undervalue by clients…you’re covering a lot of ground here. As another veteran of the CD-ROM and early web space, I dig the proposed Code of Practice and I agree with much of what you’re saying, but I have to politely disagree about a couple of things.

    First, our jobs are indeed to facilitate business. However, consumers now EXPECT a feedback channel to suppliers. The monologue days are gone – but that also doesn’t mean dialogue is the be-all-end-all. It’s table stakes. Proposing it as part of a campaign, project or whatever doesn’t mean we “have no way to add value,” it means we’re enabling feedback.

    Secondly, the larger part of the problem here is that all advertising, whatever the channel, is based on intrusion and interruption. We push value into consumers’ faces. Only problem is, as you have rightly stated, Google is the homepage and consumers can find value without the help of anyone in the marketing profession.

    Third, consumers’ voices are as loud or louder than our own. There’s plenty of conversation about our brands in the online space. So do we sit idly by and let it happen, or continue our desperate acts of intrusion, or act as a coach/facilitator around that dialogue? I vote for #3.

    It sounds like you have a lot of the same problems in AU as we do here in the States. Ad and PR firms still don’t get digital. Clients don’t get digital. Lots of self-named experts walk around tossing out buzzwords. And social media tools just noise-up the online space.

    Rather than pissing on these folks (as I must admit I have also been wont to do), put out some positives. Be the guidepost. Talk about how you do add value, not how everyone else is not adding value. If you want to re-establish a new identity around interactive, then put forth more about how you see that happening.

    Not trying to pick on you here but we’re all looking for answers and to make a buck in this business. I myself am trying to shift from ranting into coming up with a solution and staying positive. Would love to hear more from you along those lines.

    – Eric Weaver, president
    Brand Dialogue
    Seattle, WA


  63. Dale McCarthy
    17 Mar 09
    10:14 am

  64. Hallelujah! So pleased to see that you are still around and still passionate about digital media, Simon.

    The industry isn’t helping itself because of a self-perpetuating phenomena where people think they are at the cutting edge if they use and talk (ALOT) about the latest technology in the latest jargon. Newsflash: anyone can spend their day surfing the web and regurgitate case-studies and newsbites.

    Being good at digital means you are good at selling stuff. That is the only game in town. The rest is just over-packaging.

  65. Ashley Ringrose
    17 Mar 09
    10:20 am

  66. Just had time to read this fully. Phew was a little too much shot gun for me.

    Hothouse (for me) falls into the Digital Tech Services rather than the Digital Advertising Services. Your post (rant) puts both types of companies together in the one bucket. Not everyone wants to work on corporate CRM websites and e-commerce sites

    Anyway more to my point. I think this post could have used a re-read by yourself (been very guilty of long posts that lose focus just like an argument), a few more examples of where it has worked both locally and Australia would have been nice. Even better where you personally have done what you call out the industry to do

    For me your valid points are muddied by your invalid and sweeping statements. Thus your argument is less effective.

    Finally Simon this is a challenge to you!

    Come to the Creative Social (next one is late March or early April) and meet with the other heads of digital agencies and let’s have a proper talk/debate/argument/discussion about this and more. This is usually what happens anyway but seeing as you are now the great martyr for our industry I would like to see you there. Talk to Mike Z from Profero about how to get the secret handshake to get in.

    Rather than throwing down the gauntlet in this blog post like an ambush during the Viet Kong, why not consult your fellow peers and lets all attack this as one for the greater good.

  67. Ben Heuston
    17 Mar 09
    10:42 am

  68. Passion, controversy and common sense: qualities all too often not seen in the space. You know you are cutting close to the bone when you get a response like this. Whilst I don’t agree with everything you said, its achieved its purpose I’m sure, keep it coming.

  69. Rowan
    17 Mar 09
    10:49 am

  70. great post Simon, love the thoughts, love the rant. A couple people in the comments section have said ‘so what’ – well yeah, I agree with them too, but I’d argue that this is the sort of rant that’s needed to kick off discussion to get momentum behind a change.

    no one changes the world unless they express their opinion.

  71. Peter Wright
    17 Mar 09
    11:49 am

  72. Simon – a lot of valid points & a really good discussion but frankly the demise advertising agencies has been predicted for a long time. But for the most part they’re still around, still have the clients and still have a mandate to own the interactive space – and some of them are starting to catch on. So I’d agree – interactive agencies need to stop ‘playing advertising agency’.

  73. Matt Robinson
    17 Mar 09
    11:55 am

  74. I think Ashley nails it.

    It’s like having an argument about the relative merits of Point Of Sale versus Advertising .

    The reality is that they need to work together, and they each have an important role in delivering to our clients business. Digital can do both (and a whole lot more), which we should be celebrating.

  75. Yolanda Smartie
    17 Mar 09
    12:00 pm

  76. Simon, one of the most interesting I’ve read on agency land in ages. You summed it up beautifully.

    “brand dialogue” = wanker


  77. Brett Rolfe
    17 Mar 09
    2:08 pm

  78. Some interesting points, Simon, and some very thoughtful responses (for the most part). Nod to Fred – recognizing that i’s not just the brother developing websites in his bathroom, there’s also the CEO’s niece whose just finished her film course, and the marketing manager’s ex who could get a venue that’s just as good for a whole lot less.

    Of the various barbs and sledges, the one that I got most of a giggle out of “if it works by delivering commercial value to the client it’s a good thing. Let’s leave advertising agencies and PR companies to the rest”. Having worked at (and with) a range of agencies – both digital and ‘traditional’ – I think it’s fair to say that there is more variability within those categories rather than between categories when it comes to focusing of solving clients’ commercial challenges.

    I’m also a little saddened about which version of the Internet that you seem to have installed, Simon. It only facilitates, sells products and provides utility? That’s a pity – you should upgrade to the new release – it connects, entertains, fosters creativity, even augments reality on a good day – in short, it rocks. If you have any problems getting it working, just ask an intern to give you a hand.

    Now if you will excuse me, I have to get back to working like a dog…

    b 😉

  79. Doug Endersbee
    17 Mar 09
    3:55 pm

  80. Spot on, This all needed to be said. We have the most effective direct marketing tools at our disposal ever in the history of marketing. We can target, engage, measure, track, transact and build some sort of “dialogue” to repeat the process. But instead we corrupt this great medium by trying to force-fit traditional mass-media advertising strategy. Guys, although your client and your ad agency processes might wish it, the digital world is not another TV channel. Playing to the strengths of online (data, targeting, interactivity, measurability) will help our clients far more than a home page roadblock of a reversioned TVC.

  81. JJ
    17 Mar 09
    4:00 pm

  82. I agree with Ashley Ringrose but um, I think it might be the other way around actually.

    It’s the ad agencies that seem to want to be seen as being on the ‘cutting-edge’ of technology (as it means more moolah for them in the long run) and ok it might rankle with some tech heads ‘culturally’ but at least it means there’s more experimentation being done with the medium and obviously digital is being more accepted in the mainstream, give it another couple of years and it will be the mainstream.

    hmmm Naked…..they’re a communications agency right? is that still advertising? what exactly is the difference between an interactive agency and a digital advertising agency……I’m confused now 😉

    Meanwhile the real geeks are doing what they have always done and are quietly inventing the next big thing for the industry to jump on….

    Perhaps as the so called X,Y,Z, whatever generations start making their way in both industries we’ll see the boundaries blurring.

    I shouldn’t have had that fourth coffee after all….

  83. Rob Stevens
    17 Mar 09
    4:21 pm

  84. Punch drunk from both the knocks and triumphs online, indeed Simon there is much to be done. We are in the ‘solutions’ business and it’s our business to educate but in the same breath I understand your frustration, especially when it comes to the golden egg of ‘what is interactive’, which by all accounts many of us still seem to be holding after trying to give it away for years… and worse still even to our contemporaries in agency land who we thought would know better!

  85. Ashley Ringrose
    17 Mar 09
    4:32 pm

  86. The best thing about the post is the brilliant idea by Tim to have it on his blog. Everyone loves a controversy.

  87. Nic Halley
    18 Mar 09
    8:53 am

  88. nice one Simon. After 15 years we are still caught in the middle of the venerable battle of nerds versus marketing wankers — a struggle between anal retentives and anal explosives in which only the shit wins.

  89. Andy
    18 Mar 09
    10:03 am

  90. Simon,

    Standing ovation!

    I’m returning to a life of crime.

    Its far easier.

    // Andy.

  91. Zac Martin
    18 Mar 09
    11:11 am

  92. Hahaha, what a great rant.

  93. Gurmesh
    18 Mar 09
    2:19 pm

  94. Best rant of 09 so far…

    This is an important dialogue to have within our industry. Agree with most of Simon’s points and with Simon Bloomfields point about digital sitting more comfortably with direct mktg than traditional mass media agencies.

  95. Jared
    18 Mar 09
    2:28 pm

  96. So i guess the question is instead of blasting all across both industries, which interactive and digital partnerships ARE doing it right. Combining communcative user inerfaces with hard sales results.

  97. Anon
    18 Mar 09
    4:28 pm

  98. Wow … how much holier than thou can someone get.

    All this about a sub-industry that continues to feed at the bottom of the funnel and attribute all success (or is it ‘engagement’) to the last click. Sure it counts lots of things – but often not the right things. Marketing is not, and never has been a univariate world. That the most commonly cited metric is univariate (last click) displays naivety. Just because you CAN count something doesn’t mean that you SHOULD.

    OK … that was my attempt. Next!

  99. Tony@TacticalTV
    19 Mar 09
    8:00 am

  100. This post sums up very well the ‘cowboy town’ that is the digital space.

  101. Marc Loveridge
    19 Mar 09
    3:59 pm

  102. As Don Draper said, “We sell Products not advertising”.

  103. Myrna
    20 Mar 09
    2:13 pm

  104. Good rant Simon, hugely enjoyed the read. Will look out for more of your analysis.

  105. @tomnazarian
    20 Mar 09
    5:00 pm

  106. Excellent article. The RISE of Interactive Agencies finally is about to happen! Keep up the good thinking, Interactive Designers are all with you.

  107. Mark Cameron
    20 Mar 09
    7:25 pm

  108. Well said and well timed. As the world slips further into recession companies are going to be looking to transact more efficiently. Seeing this opportunity and making the most of it is how interactive agencies will separate themselves from advertising agencies.

  109. Matthew Delprado
    21 Mar 09
    8:43 pm

  110. Perhaps the reason there are such a difference of opinion in these comments is simply due to a lack of language. I suspect that trying to put companies into “Digital” and “Interactive” doesn’t give us enough buckets. Perhaps over time we’ll get a clearer sense of fragmentation in the “Digital” space, and the words we need to use to describe the different types of agencies will become clearer.

  111. Simon
    25 Mar 09
    1:07 pm

  112. Phew – that was fun. Interesting as well. Two things that occur to me:

    1. If the interactive industry tries to deliver commercially sound work regardless of the temptations to do otherwise we’ll be OK. Seems to me the ego in advertising is always invested in the idea. To make the web work we need to invest the ego in meeting the needs of the user. It’s quite different.

    2. The interesting thing about this and one of the dangers of social media is we end up talking to ourselves. It’s dangerous and seductive. To be effective marketers we need to engage our customers and sometimes that’s more challenging.

  113. Brett Allen
    30 Mar 09
    11:14 am

  114. Perfect – I’m with you on this one. Like you I have been involved with multimedia (remember that term?) since 1994. I was under the sad belief I could return to the ad world one day when they get it. I think I’ll be a very very old man by then.

    The top level management/exectives need to retire before the ad industry can catch up. I have list of some that should have gone along time ago. They have grad creative and account staff asking “why can’t I manage the online campaign” and do traditional above/below line. And why not?

    So off to the retirement home guys please, before I start my rant about media agencies and online placement strategy. NO! run-of-network is not a strategy!

  115. Granleese
    30 Mar 09
    12:20 pm

  116. Which media agencies / clients have proposed RON strategies before?

    This is usually bonus given to campaigns from publishers.. or is performance based pricing – which makes the placement irrelevant if the objective is DR.

    I only raise this as “creatives” love to bag media placement, often without applying context/reason/sense. I’d hate for you to fit into this basket too.

  117. Liz Joyce
    1 Apr 09
    4:04 pm

  118. Hello friends and passionate industry types. I agree with many of you and none of you all at the same time. Ulitmately marketing has always had its own language that consumers (aka friends at dinner) would not be familiar with. Why? Because there is some science to what we do, and so just like scientists we need to explain it/define it to be able to communicate about it with common understanding as a group of marketers.

    Absolutely we’re here to help our clients sell stuff, but often (well 99%+ of the time if you’re reviewing a display campaign!) that isnt via a direct immediate sale. We know how it happens through a mix of messages/media/experiences over short and long periods of time because we are scientists and we track it in all different ways online and offline. (There’s always room to improve on our science, isnt that the beauty of it?) We also know when what we do is or isnt cost effective overall against the client’s campaign’s objectives.

    And it always comes back to an objective. What is the objective today? Perhaps a client has been slammed for a bad product and engagement is not the objective, regaining trust through wonderful creative with powerful messages is the way to go with no requirement for immediate sale or interaction or response. It’s a journey the client needs to take the right audience on.

    Digital is absolutely far more than google even if google is often the homepage. It is absolutely a lot more than just a utility. If some of you only want to treat digital as a utility, simply an environment to directly sell, then the rest of us are well placed in how we discuss it just as a place to reach an audience to communicate to them in any number of ways.

    Reality is that digital has enabled this very thing – a discussion once restricted to friday night drinks to something so broad and wonderful. And so it has become a place we can be social.

  119. Tim Nicholas
    2 Apr 09
    2:01 pm

  120. Well said, Simon.

  121. Ben Shepherd
    6 Apr 09
    12:01 am

  122. “NO! run-of-network is not a strategy!”

    That is as ill informed as a media person saying “no, animating your print ad is not digital creative.’ Isn’t it? Taking the worst possible outcome and making a sweeping generalisation around it.

  123. Lynchy
    6 Apr 09
    7:13 pm

  124. While some great work is being done by independents, much of the best and most awarded interactive and digital work in the world is created by ad agencies and subsidiaries of agency networks as part of their integrated offering. The following agencies won Gold Cyber Lions in the last three years: BBDO New York (HBO ‘Voyeur’), Crispin Porter + Bogusky, Miami + Boulder (Burger King ‘Whopper Freakout’ and Volkswagen ‘GTi’), R/GA New York – owned by Interpublic (Nike+), TBWA\Media Arts Lab, LA (Apple), Taxi Canada (Mini and Dermtek), Glue London – owned by Aegis (Mini Clubman), FarFar, Sweden – also owned by Aegis subsidiary Isobar (Diesel ’15mg of fame’), Forsman & Bodenfors, Stockholm (Ikea ‘Beds’), Droga5, New York (Marc Ecko ‘Still Free’), Ogilvy & Mather, Toronto (Dove ‘Evolution’), Goodby Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco (Milk), BBH London (Barnardo’s ‘F**K Off’), BBH New York (Smirnoff ‘Raw Tea’), McCann San Francisco (Microsoft ‘Clearification’), Publicis & Hal Riney, San Francisco (AAA Insurance) and Tribal DDB New York (Philips ‘Bodygroom’). There are many more….

    On a regional level – while searching in vain for awards for Hothouse – last year the following agencies won Silver Pencils at AWARD in Interactive: Colenso BBDO Auckland (NZ Book Council ‘Read a book at work’), Clemenger BBDO, Wellington (LTNZ), Clemenger BBDO Sydney (Sega ‘Offset the Evil’) and Host Sydney (Air New Zealand). The only purely interactive agency to win Silver was Visual Jazz – incidentally, owned by Mitchell Group – for Defence Force Recruiting.

    The following agencies won Bronze Pencils last year: Saatchi & Saatchi New Zealand (Toyota ‘Hilux Motion’), Publicis Mojo, Auckland (Nature’s Fresh), Ogilvy New Zealand (Coca-Cola Amatil), JWT New Zealand (Ford Mondeo ‘Balloons’), Consortium Auckland (42 Below), Lowe Sydney (MTV ‘Welcome Snoop’ and Genesis Energy), Host Sydney (Air New Zealand), Clemenger BBDO Sydney (Sega ‘Offset the Evil’), Grey Melbourne (TAC ‘Pictures of You’), Saatchi & Saatchi Australia (United Nations ‘UN Voices Project’), RMG Connect – part of the STW group (Kellogg ‘Walk the Great Wall’), and Naked Communications – owned by Photon (Sprite ‘Thirst for Truth’).

    In fact, Soap Creative (Bronze for Foxtel and Bronze for 20th Century Fox) was the only Aussie independent to win metal at AWARD last year.

    Perhaps this thread should have a new headline:
    Interactive agencies need to stop being beaten by advertising agencies.

  125. Peter
    7 Apr 09
    10:42 am

  126. Hi Lynchy

    Interesting post, but perhaps some full disclosure is required as to why much of the “best and most awarded” digital work is being created by networks, such as:

    1. What was the dollar spend by digital agencies entering award shows when compared to ad agencies and networks? I wouldn’t be surprised if the ratio was 1:100. This would then be reflected in awards won (sad but true).

    2. I am not sure that citing AWARD as an indicator of regional digital award credentials was a great choice. There are other regional awards out there in the digital space that have more history and more entries. However that is a whole other, fairly irrelevant debate in the scheme of things..

    3. With all the aquisition activity, there simply aren’t many independent digital agencies left!

    4. Some ad agencies don’t get the digital channel, but neither do some digital agencies.

    5. They are just awards. Important as they are, perhaps the best work should be solely based on achieving client expectations, whether that be tangible or intangible KPIs. Possibly a survey could be undertaken on the brands that have worked with both specialist digital agencies and the generalists, and see what the clients actually think about their own experiences.

    People need to get over this whole specialist v generalist issue regardless of whether it is digital, DM, PR etc etc. Both do great work, both do poor work. What matters is the people and the work: the picture is more important than the frame.

  127. Lynchy
    7 Apr 09
    1:22 pm

  128. Peter,

    One entry with a great idea from the smallest interactive shop can make you world famous, you don’t need to sell the house. Farfar in Sweden, with only a handful of staff, won the Cannes Cyber Grand Prix in 2001. (Droga5, New York was also only a handful of people when they won the Cannes Cyber Grand Prix in 2006).

    Any small interactive shop in Australia can do likewise, if they have a great idea. Looking at entries over the years, most of the best interactive shops, large and small, enter AWARD.

    Anyway, I’m interested in your point 4. Some ad agencies don’t get the digital channel, but neither do some digital agencies.

    Can you (or anyone else) tell us which Australian companies do get it? And why?
    And, just for the traditional ad guys and gals, what is there to get?

  129. Simon
    7 Apr 09
    3:47 pm

  130. I think it was Singletons that refused to enter awards and it might be myth and legend but I gather it was to keep the focus on the client and not on the award. I’ve done some charity work and met agencies looking for pro bono with no client control in order to create an award winning ad.

    Anyway I think I was trying to make the point that the interactive industry should focus on the commercial outcomes of our work. I believe it’s our only way to create a respected value proposition for a long term profitable industry.

    Having awards as part of a business strategy is a lottery not a strategy.

  131. Ashley Ringrose
    7 Apr 09
    3:57 pm

  132. See you at Creative Social tonight Simon.

  133. Peter
    7 Apr 09
    3:57 pm

  134. I agree one entry can make you world famous – however volume does still matter, statistically speaking.

    In terms of your questions:

    Q: Can you (or anyone else) tell us which Australian companies do get it? And why?
    A: It’s just my opinion, and my opinion isn’t necessarily right (or even close to), so no. However nice try! That said, most do, but it isn’t dependent on size, or awards.

    Q: And, just for the traditional ad guys and gals, what is there to get?
    A: I’m not sure if this is meant to be bait, however I will have a small nibble. There are still quotes bandied about by “traditional” (a term I really don’t like) ad guys and gals saying that digital is “just another channel.” If this really is the sentiment, then those people don’t “get” digital. As I wrote previously, both full service and specialist digital agencies are capable of poor strategic thinking and execution: what matters most is the people involved, not the label that they work under.

  135. Lynchy
    7 Apr 09
    5:30 pm

  136. Simon,

    I suspect Singo’s did not enter awards all those years because it would have been in vain. Most of their work was mediocre and relied on massive media spend to get any cut-through. (Their most memorable campaign – Qantas ‘I still Call Australia home’ – was originated by Mojo).

    As Bernbach said: “Nobody counts the number of ads you run; they just remember the impression you make.” He also said: “Properly practiced creativity can make one ad do the work of ten.”

    Some of the most creatively awarded work for Australia’s biggest marketers has also been the most effective. Check the winners of the AFA Effectiveness Awards (now the Effies) since 1992. In that first year Campaign Brief published a cover story headed ‘Creative = Effective’, which proved that the two were not mutually exclusive.


    Most of the good agency creatives I know get digital, just like they get any other medium. They are also creating great ideas in the digital space, helped by the in-house agency boffins who execute those ideas. I actually think there’s nothing much to get, apart from the bleeding obvious – which is coming up with powerful, relevant ideas that engage the target market via the digital medium. As has been the case with any combination of media since the ad caper began.

    Sorry to quote Bill again, but he’s the fountain of all ad wisdom as far as I’m concerned: “Adapt your techniques to an idea, not an idea to your techniques.”

    He also said: “To keep your ads fresh you’ve got to keep yourself fresh. Live in the current idiom and you will create in it. If you follow and enjoy and are excited by the new trails in art, in writing, in industry, in personal relationships… whatever you do will naturally be of today.”

    Good advice for those creatives still living in the 80s.

  137. Peter
    7 Apr 09
    6:45 pm

  138. Hi Lynchy,

    Digital advertising is just one part of digital, which I think is at the core of what agencies need to “get” about digital.

    Digital advertising gains much of the spotlight in the trade press, but that is because the trade press tends to look at digital from an advertising only perspective (which is understandable). However, the digital channel is far more than this – take a look at AIMIA’s digital services index to review the complete scope of digital (

    Yes, part of digital is advertising, however at the core of digital is business transformation, something that it is fair to say has been catalysed by digital as opposed to say TV or radio (DM has had its moments in this regard though!) Digital has redefined complete categories such as music and financial services, through business transformation.

    A good digital agency, and indeed any agency that does digital, will look beyond advertising and help their brands change the way they do business using foresight and knowledge. Lynchy, you come at digital from am advertising angle, so I completely undertand your viewpoint, but the pie is far larger.

    Years ago, interactive agencies were very, very good at helping brands adapt their businesses in order to keep pace with a transformed market. This is becoming a bit lost in the advertising rush – even though most promotions are simply band aid fixes that fail to address very real business problems. No matter how many promotions Sony Music for example push out the door through their agencies, it isn’t going to solve their fundamental market problem. This is where good digital agencies used to step in. Some still do. So do some ad agencies. But not often enough. Simply throwing marketing dollars at promotions doesn’t change the fact that for many brands, and industries, the ambulance is at the door. I can guarantee that brands that take this approach to a changing market are finding that the law of diminishing returns holds true. Better to jump first than be pushed.

    I am an advocate of how important creative is in communicating with consumers (creative tends to be vastly undervalued, but that is another conversation). That said, it takes more than great creative, great copy, or great promotions to enable success in the digital channel. Taking care of these only addresses a very small part of what can be achieved. As an industry, the digital industry needs to refocus, and help brands redefine the way they do business, not simply focus on advertising to get a short termm hit of success.

    Unfortunately at Cannes or AWARD there is no category for best use of digital to transform a business, yet this is the crux of what digital is all about. And this is understandable, since they are advertising driven award shows; but since they ignore the core of the digital channel, which is business change. So citing how many awards an agency wins at these isn’t a good measure of success – but they are a great measure of digital advertising, which is different.

    This lack of understanding regarding using the digital channel to transform a category has been what has held ad agencies back in the past, as they have been driven by advertising (read media spend). This is also changing. The gap between digital agencies and ad agencies is narrowing in terms of core competencies (though some would argue this is because the bar has been lowered, which may be something that Simon alluded to).

    A lot of great digital strategists are actually very good at business modelling as opposed to creating online promotions – and many do both. But I would suggest that if your digital strategist isn’t helping you remodel the way you do business, then look elsewhere.

    So when you intimate that there is nothing much to get apart from “coming up with powerful, relevant ideas that engage the target market via the digital medium,” this highlights the problem – it not just about engaging the market, it is about changing the market itself.

    End of Soapbox 2.0!

  139. Chris Jeffares
    7 Apr 09
    8:59 pm

  140. As another response to Simon’s Guest Post arrived in my Inbox, I found the topic of the eNewsletter that sat directly below this new alert incredibly ironic … it was from Adweek Interactive and was titled “Razorfish Tries Out TV”.

    Read it at

  141. Simon
    7 Apr 09
    9:02 pm

  142. Nice one Peter. I agree advertising people view the Internet as another medium for advertising. We used to need advertising. We found out about new products and services through advertising. We can find anything we want now we just use a search engine. We all understand that really deeply. Many of us completely ignore advertising until we want something. The game has changed.

  143. Matthew Delprado
    7 Apr 09
    9:35 pm

  144. Well said Peter. I think that those posting here that live too close to awards are only seeing a fraction of the potential of what interactive can offer clients.

    Sadly, in my experience, most traditional creatives are only looking for the latest trick of technology that has the chance of winning them an award.

  145. Lynchy
    7 Apr 09
    9:55 pm

  146. Simon,

    Has the game really changed? Like other mainstream media, particularly free to air TV, the internet relies on advertising for its very existence (mainly crap advertising, admittedly). You wouldn’t be able to Google anything if Google wasn’t funded by advertising – including fees for paid search. Google is the greatest benefactor of advertising the world has ever seen – revenue of around US$20 billion in 2008.

  147. Matthew Delprado
    7 Apr 09
    10:04 pm

  148. Lynchy,

    The type, and amount of advertising that the consumer will put up with has changed. Google proved that you can get rich on 50 character ads, but there’s isn’t much overhead an agency can charge for writing them.

    Google proves you need to be useful to be successful. Others are proving you can be entertaining and be successful too, but clever isn’t enough anymore.

  149. Simon
    8 Apr 09
    8:58 am

  150. The rant was not about advertising. It was about the way the digital industry is doing advertising. As Matthew says Google shows you have to be useful to be successful and advertising on Google is useful. It helps you find what you are looking for.

    The current situation does not really work for anyone. Publishers need advertisers and vice versa but I’d argue the advertising industry, the dating agency between these two is not doing as well as it should in the digital arena.

    And on another topic has anyone seen the latest site from Kia –

    So the client spends money on TV advertising but does not tell you the car brand. The website is invisible to Google because it’s Flash and a new URL that’ll be sandboxed so the client is buying search to support the campaign. If you do a search because we know advertising drives search and you do in fact find the site the description in the SERP says: Soul – No two souls are the same. You need Javascript turned on to view this site. Compelling copy. It’s a youth brand perhaps they have an affinity for Javascript.

    It’s the Scion site without the intelligence.


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