Lack of technologists in ad agencies holding Australia back in digital, says Cannes judge

Australia’s embarrassing no-show in the Cyber Lions can partly be explained by a lack of technology literate executives at a senior level in agencies, Aussie juror Ashadi Hopper said today.

“There is a lack of technologists at a senior level in agencies in Australia, and the entries at Cannes from Australia have been dominated by ad agencies,” he said.

“Most of entries we’ve seen from Australia have been advertising led. But the work that’s winning at Cannes has been technology led,” he said.

“The way agencies are structured in Australia, does not help our cause.”

However, he added that some of Australia’s digital work was strong, but was focused in the area of “traditional digital”. He singled out Share a Coke as one Australian campaign with world class digital credentials.

Australia didn’t feature at all on the Cyber Lions shortlist.

New Zealand managed a brace of finalists, although neither Colenso BBDO or String Theory Auckland failed to convert their chances into lions.


  1. Anton Buchner
    21 Jun 12
    9:42 am

  2. Agree – too many agencies are giving social and technology discussions away for free.

    There needs to be a clear technology value exchange created between agencies and clients.

    This should be driven by technology and marketing collaboration rather than silo mentality.

    The agencies that get this are shining globally. The ones that don’t are languishing in uneducated promises without any follow through.

  3. Peter Bray
    21 Jun 12
    10:02 am

  4. Ashadi makes a valid point. But I would like to throw something out there . . . but first, I have to say that I don’t think it is an “embarrassing” situation. Would it have been nice to see some Australians get recognised on a global level, sure of course. We could do better, but embarrassing it isn’t. And it’s great we have a judge on the panel.

    However, what if we spin this another way around.

    If the goal is to create great campaigns regardless of channel/media, then what if this means that Australian agencies really are “getting” digital, and because of this are more focussed on great insights coming to life in all areas? Does the fact that we haven’t won any pure digital lions mean that we are doing a better job in using digital as part of a meaningful communications piece rather than a gimmick? Or what if we went further, and eliminated the idea of a digital department? Would this be a sign of success?

    Or we just may not be that good. Which could mean there will be a reaction in the industry, and Ashadi will have better digital only work from us next year to judge. Surely a positive.

  5. That seems a bit wrong
    21 Jun 12
    10:08 am

  6. I’m not saying we’ve been stiffed, because I believe we are lagging behind in Oz. Not just in digital advertising, digital in general. Low KB limits, Data caps, no NBN etc. And digital budgets. It will always be harder to compete (and innovate) when ours are much smaller than our American counterparts.


    Shouldn’t the winning creative be led by an idea? Or are we supposed to find the coolest new tech and wow judges with it?

  7. Chris
    21 Jun 12
    10:42 am

  8. I think the problem in Aus is that digital is almost always an afterthought. Yeah digital budgets here are rubbish, but we have the potential and talent to do better than 40kb flash banners, single page microsites, edms and halfarsed Facebook pages.

  9. Geek
    21 Jun 12
    10:49 am

  10. The problem is that agencies are really not ideal places for technologists. It’s not just a problem in Australia. There was a bit of a trend that developed over the past couple of years of technology types heading towards large agencies but they are pretty much flowing back to technology companies again now.

    The issue is that Advertising agencies aren’t paid for true innovation, they are paid to advertise.

    To create new things with new technology is to create for a relatively small audience and to take on a relatively high level of risk. This is typically not what clients want from their agencies in Australia. They want to get to AS MANY EYEBALLS AS POSSIBLE — that’s it.

    Also, agencies with technology people simply don’t know how to charge for their skills and so the tech types get bored and leave.

    Ad agencies in this market are competing with startups and the freedom of contracting. There are no shortage of options for technology types in Australia and ad agencies are not really attractive options typically.

  11. ben
    21 Jun 12
    11:04 am

  12. Peter, while we are at it, let’s get rid of TV departments and print studios.
    Departments are not the problem, it’s the lack of skills like technologists, UX designers etc. I agree that great digital is ideas led.

  13. Scott
    21 Jun 12
    11:16 am

  14. Glad to see that the terminology “traditional digital” is being used and understood after pumping it for 2 years. Time to get “mind blowing effective digital” everyone :)

  15. Logic
    21 Jun 12
    11:33 am

  16. good tech minds want tough challenges and lots of freedom. i’m not sure agencies offer either of these as the environment in which agencies operate in Australia is just not aligned with these values.

    if they don’t get the above, they go somewhere that claims it can provide it. if they don’t, they leave and go somewhere else. good tech/dev ppl are loyal only to constant challenge.

  17. Geek
    21 Jun 12
    11:40 am

  18. One thing you will also notice with the shortlist is a distinct lack of credit for the technologists that actually make the work (where it’s a large agency)…

    And where they are credited, it’s typically external agency partners.

  19. KP
    21 Jun 12
    11:51 am

  20. @Geek you’re shining here:
    “Ad agencies in this market are competing with startups and the freedom of contracting. There are no shortage of options for technology types in Australia and ad agencies are not really attractive options typically.”

    This and the lack of the NBN. There are plenty of ‘technologists’, perhaps they’re not skilled in promoting their talents just yet.

  21. Geek
    21 Jun 12
    11:59 am

  22. Yes, the NBN will make for great opportunities but ‘Lack of NBN’ is a bit of a copout. Fast broadband is widely available in Australia.

    It’s the lack of imagination and ambition of clients and risk averse agencies that are more to blame.

  23. GenY
    21 Jun 12
    12:05 pm

  24. Australian Ad Agencies are still controlled by old school Creatives that have more of a traditional angle on things. When they try to do digital they try to do too much by adding in all these features they have seen from other campaigns or trying to be too bleeding edge that it just doesnt work. Creatives need to collaborate more with the tech people within their agencies on their “digital” ideas as there are so many more factors that will contribute to that campaigns success now.

  25. Just a minute...
    21 Jun 12
    12:23 pm

  26. More than ever the work speaks for itself? Good digital is gauged by the size of the audience that it creates for itself rather than what a handful of people in a room in France think. There is plenty of good work and engagement happening locally and the ‘clicks, views and likes’ speak for the work, to the clients, more than awards do I’d reckon. The good tech guys I’ve worked with know that an award isn’t a meal ticket in this game (probably as they dont rank a mention on the day). That’s why they simply dont care. The agency guys are just feathering thy traditional nest…

  27. Yeahno
    21 Jun 12
    12:42 pm

  28. I agree with all of this and none of this.

  29. Not P Stenhouse
    21 Jun 12
    2:16 pm

  30. The reason cyber hasn’t performed is simple. Around 18 months ago a lot of brands decided to consolidate digital into their above the line agency. The lack of quality digital work is a reflection of that. I am a marketing director and I made the mistake as well.

  31. Adam Good
    21 Jun 12
    2:28 pm

  32. Yep agree with this point. Australian clients are asking clients to use digital to create and push messages rather than using it to create brand experiences. Agencies have to push back from this. True meaningful interactive and connected experiences require a longer term approach.

  33. Gavin Benda
    21 Jun 12
    4:04 pm

  34. Most big traditional ‘ad agencies’ have been left totally behind in the digital age, the veterans roll their eyes at digital/social, creatives with absolutely no idea about the digital space try and shoehorn print-based principles into it, and you end up with a big mess.

    A huge number of agencies just outsource all of their digital work, because they can’t deal with it.

    We’re stuck in a world where clients come in with a very poor idea of pricing with digital (often someone has just pulled a figure out of the air when setting up budgets!). It takes a lot of education to get them to a stage where they realise that there is a vast difference between services out there, and where the “value” is coming from.

  35. The Claw
    21 Jun 12
    4:13 pm

  36. All the Australian technologists I know want to do something useful and interesting, not waste their skills working for an advertising agency. Maybe the situation is different elsewhere in the world.

  37. Geek
    21 Jun 12
    4:17 pm

  38. ++ The Claw

  39. Martin Walsh
    21 Jun 12
    4:58 pm

  40. Ashadi is partly right, but mostly wrong; he’s highlighting a symptom and not the root causes.

    Australian agencies and a large majority of Australian organisations are years behind in true integrated 360 degree marketing and are still playing catch-up on pure digital. Our media and retail is in an even worse state.

    Sadly, two of the key tenants of good, consistent, successful marketing are being lost or dismissed; 1. Completely understanding your audiences / customers, 2. Clients aren’t getting the kind of strategic counsel from their digital agencies they need.

    In the rush to embrace digital most agencies and their digital ‘experts’ have rushed head long into chasing bright shiny objects and confusing simple tactical elements like social marketing with social networking. I coined the phrase a few years ago ‘social media marketing is a commitment, not a campaign’. In this race to pursue the next bright shiny object they have led their customers down the garden path and their clients end up following the last best thing. Further, they have mostly ignored the two key tenants outlined above.

    Agencies and marketers seem to have less of a deep understanding of the digital behaviour of their intended audiences and customers, how technology, channels and platforms are being used and for what, and they don’t know how all the media fits together or how to develop a strategy to address a client’s needs. (Of course I’m generalising). We still don’t use insights and learning to understand this era of marketing – most are applying old marketing rules to social media. This is not a passive medium and simply using it as a new channel to continue to broadcast a monologue of messages and not engaging in the conversations will ensure your efforts fail.

    Recent studies and all my conversations over the past 3-4 years back this up; ‘a recent study by DataXu: twice as many marketers (37 percent vs. 18 percent) felt that their agency of record didn’t help their digital marketing efforts than did help them.’ (See links below)

    Example: many agencies, marketers and media can’t see the forest from the trees. In the race to adopt the next bright shiny object most agencies have convinced marketers to bet the farm on native mobile apps and on the iPhone and are now doing the same with the iPad. But almost all agencies and marketers have been caught out by the rapid rise of Android (now equal to if not greater than iPhone) and the same will happen again with Windows (phone and tablet). Customers want seamless, integrated experiences but retailers and brands are on some devices and not on others, each has a different UI and usually, there has been no science or customer intelligence behind the decisions. The forest from the trees here is marketers and brands should be focused on responsive web design and HTML5 (build once for all devices and screens) but you won’t hear this from Australian agencies. Market research has shown time and time again that consumers still prefer the mobile web for shopping vs native apps but once again agencies have discounted all of the research into customer behaviour and technology.

    Another example: most agencies and many marketers are measuring the wrong things in terms of determining the performance of their marketing and or attributing performance to the wrong elements. My peers and I stopped measuring click through rates on display 3-4 years ago. Many attribute performance to the last click, e.g. paid search. But if you understand the 360 degree picture you know it’s a 1+1+1=4 game. 44% of people who click on paid search have been exposed to a banner ad but the banner gets no performance attribution and paid search get’s everything. The same with other tactical elements, when you put them together you get an exponential lift – but it’s all useless without a strategy and insights.

    Another example: some 87% of social media marketing projects fail because they had no strategy and weren’t integrated into a 360 degree plan.

    Yes we need more marketers understanding technology, but they need to be objective about it and intimately understand how it relates to their audiences / customers and how the technology is used and not used and not chase the next shiny object. If you understand your audiences but also keep an eye on the 10,000 foot view, then in most cases you can’t go wrong and we don’t need to start hiring ‘creative technologists’ within agencies.

    In this headlong ‘gold rush’ into digital, most agencies, marketers and media have lost or dismissed the fundamental and core skillsets and components of marketing; understanding your audience and strategy (the strategy of ‘why’ behind the creative ‘wow’) which is a real shame because we are simply back to the future with marketing.

    Three relevant resources for you:

    Digital Agencies: Here’s Your Wake-Up Call –
    David Armani’s ‘Wheel of Marketing Misfortune’ – I use this to guide the principals within my own marketing team –
    Boston Consulting Group (from 2010! But not much has changed) – ‘CMO Imperative: Tackling New Digital Realities’ –

  41. Porks
    21 Jun 12
    5:12 pm

  42. I agree there’s a lack of ‘technologists’ at senior level in AU agencyland, but there’s definitely not a lack of smart businesses that are trying like mad to get their technology into the agencies on a partnership or service provision basis.

    In my view at a macro level digital ad innovation is stifled here because of the higher risk involved with addressing a relatively small market. Also, the silo mindset still seems to pervade agency structure – despite the efforts to break this down in recent years.

    In some ways I agree with the theme of an earlier post – if the strategy is sound at the outset then the technology and channels required to realise it are available here in Australia. We just need to be conscious of staying ahead of the tech curve in terms of what is possible and then have big enough balls to implement it as part of a campaign’s overall comms mix.

  43. John Grono
    21 Jun 12
    11:49 pm

  44. There’s nothing wrong with a client wanting as many eyeballs as possible and that being the way of judging what is ‘good’ – think of it as reverse crowdsourcing.

  45. Oli
    22 Jun 12
    10:03 am

  46. The only thing holding back Australian agencies from producing digital work worthy of recognition on stages like this is time and money. Not talent.

    Most clients are guilty of a lack of forward planning and therefore advanced briefing enabling the time needed to create this quality work. There seems to be a habit of briefing quarter by quarter.

    Also I think a lot of Australian clients are still timid with their digital spend especially when it comes to big brand ideas and definitely have a TV obsession. It feels like they see big dollars going into TV and mainstream paid media rather than digital a safer justification of this kind of spend to executive teams.

    It’s the job of agencies to get clients excited by ideas like these and having open discussions on how to bring them to life in the Australian market and how to sell them in internally. It would be hard for a client to say they don’t have an appetite for this level of digital advertising and therefore it should be a matter of driving foreword planning enabling time and budget allocation.