Digital Means Dollars. But What Else Does It Mean?

You may have heard that ad agencies can’t find talented and experienced digital craftsmen fast enough. Be that as it may, agencies are finding willing members of the digerati and signing them up in record numbers.

According to the Star Tribune, Minneapolis ad agencies “are hopping on the social media train with lots of hires and increasing revenue.”

Campbell Mithun, which used a Twitter contest last month to select six interns for the summer, expects its digital media billings at its Compass Point Media subsidiary to increase by 67 percent this year.

“We have a Facebook specialist. We have a content specialist. We have a listening specialist,” said Chris Wexler, Compass Point’s group planning director. “The market is so complex. But we’re not looking for clicks. We’re talking about moving products off shelves.”

At Colle+McVoy, digital work has grown from 5 percent of total output to 40 percent in five years. In the past year alone, the Minneapolis agency added 15 digital specialists to its workforce, bringing its total of specialists to 50.

The digital team at Periscope exceeds 40, up more than a third from three years ago.

This is great news for the digitally-enabled professional seeking steady work in Adlandia. And this kind of explosive growth is happening around the globe. Yet, there are some who caution that money spent in digital is not necessarily money well spent. You can tune in to The Ad Contrarian for more on that subject. Bob Hoffman, the blog’s author, is “highly skeptical of the magical properties of digital advertising.” In fact, The Contrarian advises in his most recent post: “don’t fritter away your passion on foolish crap like ‘consumer engagement,’ ‘social branding,’ and ‘web evangelism.’ Passion is a terrible thing to waste.”

Hoffman’s skepticism is meant to be funny, and it is. But Hoffman is also totally serious in his criticism. I can understand why. Digital culture may be explosive, and the future of advertising, journalism and entertainment, but it’s also pixie dust, as Hoffman suggests with his “magical properties” label.

Hoffman wants better metrics and a general dampening of the noise, which is sensible, but a hard thing to achieve when there’s a circus underway in the big tent. So why bother? Hoffman can speak for himself on that question, but I’ll identify my own struggle with digital to spur some conversation on the matter. I want to make things that last for more than a day, one hour or a few minutes. I bet you do too. Sure, traditional advertising is also routinely rejected and ignored, but let’s go to that happy place where our ads are great and people love them. In this dream world, our TV campaigns and print campaigns have weight, or substance. Whereas the digital components of the campaign, however cool and well designed, are viewed by people with shrinking attention spans and fast fingers.

I’m more hopeful about digital than Hoffman. But if that hope is to endure, digital is going to need to grow up a bit. It’s not impossible to make something of lasting value for this click-frenzied media, but we’ll need to dig deeper and provide more real value.



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.