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The Ad Contrarian has little hope for the future as digital bedazzles marketers

Former agency owner turned industry critic, Bob Hoffman, says it is too late to turn the tide of digital obsession by marketers back to embrace advertising that truly connects, engages and entertains consumers.Bob HoffmanHoffman, who in the 1980s forged a partnership with Australia’s Mojo agency and became CEO during its attempted US expansion, sits on the shoulder of the industry as the popular and influential Ad Contrarian – but he likes very little of what he sees.

Hoffman had a role in marketing Australia to Americans, working with Qantas on the award-winning grumpy Koala ads created by Fred Manley which ran in the US in the 1970s and he had a hand in the iconic ‘I Still Call Australia Home’ ad which continues to define the airline.

In Australia this week as a guest of newly-launched marketing and communications consultancy Mad Clarity, Hoffman said creative marketers and advertisers are fighting a losing battle against data merchants, and agencies are in the fatal grip of lawyers and accountants.

He said the increasing fascination with digital at the expense of traditional media was seeing some push back, with Procter & Gamble announcing last week it was moving some its spend away from digital in the face of questionable returns on Facebook over precision targeting, but he feared the influence of the digital giants could overwhelm many marketers who may be thinking of following its lead.

“My suspicion is that online advertising will continue to grow because marketers have ignored all the evidence for years, and I believe most of them will continue to ignore the evidence,” Hoffman told Mumbrella.

“I think there will be certain marketers who will find that they are experiencing very big problems by doing this (investing large amounts in digital) such as P&G, but the fact is most marketers don’t really know. As a result of that I would be surprised if this signals anything very big.

“I felt for years that one day a bell is going to ring and everyone’s going to get it – that this shit just isn’t working very well. But it hasn’t happened and I suspect it won’t happen.”

Hoffman agrees with Australia’s Mark Ritson that legacy media has capitulated in the face of the digital disruptors rather than standing up for platforms which continue to deliver mass audiences and real engagement. He also says agencies have been complicit in allowing marketers to be caught up in the blind rush to digital for solutions.

“Agencies don’t want to push back,” he said.

“Agencies are making a lot of money on digital; they have higher margins on digital than they do on traditional and I think they like it just the way it is.

“Every time there is bad news about digital it comes from either the media, or from clients or from media companies – it never comes from agencies. Why is it that agencies never break the bad news about digital? It’s either they don’t know or they don’t want to know.”

He sees the issue tied up with the debate about transparency with agencies now of such a scale they are impossible to stand against.

“It’s surprising to me that = agencies have become so big and have so much power, it seems like marketers are afraid to take them on,” he said.

“I don’t understand why these big marketers that are spending billions of dollars with these agencies are not more forceful.”

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