The Glue

In a world where digital pervades everything and specialists dominate the marketing field, what’s the glue that holds all the moving pieces together? And where should it come from? Let’s take a moment to pause and reflect.

  • Marketing Week columnist Helen Edwards recently took a few swings at “digital-first” agencies.
  • Her argument: these agencies are inherently “downstream” specialists who wouldn’t know a big idea from a bot. So—for heaven’s sake—don’t put them in the driver’s seat of your next big campaign.
  • Before reading a word, we got a little hung up on the title.
  • First there’s the “d-word”. Five years ago, Tom Goodwin argued quite convincingly that the word “digital” had outgrown its usefulness: “We’ve become obsessed with the pipe, when for people it’s irrelevant.” And yet … here we are.
  • Then there’s the framing of digital as a “discipline”. We’d argue (and we think many would agree) that a lot of distinct disciplines could live under that broad umbrella: Direct Response Advertising, UX, SEO, SEM, Content, Social, Automation, Data, Email, Measurement etc.
  • Reading on, it becomes clear that Edwards’ focus is more narrow. She’s talking about big campaigns and the ideas that anchor them. Her gold standards are all drawn from famous TV ads—but isn’t creating TV spots also a specialist discipline too? And don’t those specialists use computers and the internet?
  • Her argument hearkens back to the old “above the line vs. below the line” distinction, which has largely fallen out of use in recent years.
  • This idea has largely been replaced—thanks to Binet and Fields, among others—by the notion of balancing brand building with activation. A much more useful distinction. More about what’s effective than who’s doing it.
  • Edwards’ core point is that a good campaign should feel coherent across this whole spectrum. And the glue that holds it all together should spring from the brand in a channel-agnostic way. We could not agree more.
  • But surely the path to this ideal state doesn’t involve breaking up the agency landscape—and the corresponding internal disciplines—into silos and generalizing about who’s capable of what. If you want holistic results, why not start with a holistic mindset? And a diverse team with different strengths?
  • For the closing words on the subject, let’s return to Tom Goodwin’s piece from 5 years back.
Issue #117
May 2, 2021

Further Reading