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Are clients being sold digital duds?

15/06/2009

Investment in digital marketing continues to grow and despite the recession spend online is holding up (although growing at a lower rate). Equally good is that more and more brands are recognising that digital must now be an integral part of their marketing mix.

So what’s the bad news? Despite the continued growth in online spend many clients are buying into ill conceived, poorly planned solutions that have absolutely no relevance to the target audience. This isn’t meant as a criticism of all digital agencies. There are plenty delivering superb, on-brief sites, campaigns, content, etc that deliver great returns for the client.

However, there as many, if not more campaigns and digital products being sold that are not fit for purpose. Let’s take games as an example. We’ve seen several this week all of which are well executed in terms of playability and use of Flash. But exactly what relevance do they have for the consumer who is supposed to buy the products that the client produces (and wishes to sell)? None.

Here’s an example. Brand X is an FMCG product targeted at and bought by women who are likely to have families. Great media planning has located the kind of sites that they are likely to visit. What is the call-to-action for our busy mums? Is it a chance to get a free sample of the product? Is it a voucher offering a discount to incentivise a purchase in place of their usual brand? Or even a competition so that they can capture data? No. The result of the strategic plan was a game. In this case there was little to redeem this content which was  ill conceived, poorly executed and creatively weak.

How is this good marketing? If marketing is defined as satisfying customer needs profitably, then how does a game meet this particular audiences needs? It doesn’t. A client has seen/read that games are good. The agency concerned has the capability to develop games and has either sold the concept or merely agreed with the client’s wishes rather than challenging the brief. Most likely is that the agency simply lacks the skills and expertise to offer a genuinely insightful solution.

If digital agencies are to ever reach the position of strategic leadership that their (offline) advertising/media counterparts enjoy they need to be doing several things. The key change is to become much more audience focussed. They need to embrace planning and insight so that the solutions they sell as absolutely right for the target audience.  What’s frustrating about the lack of planning is that digital is such a highly measurable channel that there are many sources of research, etc that can really help with campaign planning.

The supply-led approach to selling is wrong. Agencies are getting away with it because digital is new, perceived as technical and in great demand. Sadly as a new industry not all the suppliers are of equally quality or as experienced.

But if we really want clients to embrace digital as central to the mix then practitioners need to show the same level of insight and audience understanding as ad agencies. Then, and only then can digital really command a seat at the top table. Planning is where it’s at. Planning is the future of digital…

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. 15/06/2009 4:15 pm

    The agency concerned has the capability to develop games and has either sold the concept or merely agreed with the client’s wishes rather than challenging the brief. Most likely is that the agency simply lacks the skills and expertise to offer a genuinely insightful solution.

    Most likely a mixture of all of these. I had an old, hugely successful mentor that would tell me, “if the client’s happy, it’s a good solution”. Sadly not all clients are actually ROI focussed. Many see digital as a playground, a chance to have fun so they’re quite open to being sold games and ‘viral’ with dubious returns. You’re right that digital agencies need to step up and offer genuine strategic advice alongside their creative and production. I suspect this is a chicken-and-egg situation though. Digital agencies need to earn their clients respect as a strategic partner, and clients need to ask for strategic advice rather than demanding whatever’s hot at the time.

  2. Jason Hall permalink
    15/06/2009 7:25 pm

    Not sure if you’re saying this game in itself was poorly executed or the idea of using games to target mums is in itself poorly thought through. If it’s the latter then I’m not sure I agree. Perhaps you’re making the assumption that a games audience = teenage boys? Interestingly, Big Fish Games – a major player in casual games development and distribution, with over 1.5m games downloaded every day – report that their client base is 80% female, and with an average age of 50, (ie. high probability that there are lots of mums in there!), and this is by no means unusual.

    Reply
    Thanks for the comments. The overall aim of the post was to suggest that many campaigns are developed (and sold) based on the agency’s skills and/or a client’s brief often without recourse to any consumer research or planning. I wasn’t suggesting that a game wasn’t necessarily the answer to the brief, merely that other questions could have been asked (and that perhaps there was a better campaign to be developed).

    The stats you quote are interesting. Nielson’s GamePlay metric’s panel shows a roughly 50:50 gender split with the largest segment being women aged 25-54. So whilst potentially relevant to this audience, are games the right solution for the brand’s business objectives?

  3. Dan permalink
    17/07/2009 8:44 am

    Some of the fault has to lay with the client on this. I’m fed up with wannabe digital marketers who think they know a thing about digital!

    Agree with Jake Grimley’s last paragraph

    “…and clients need to ask for strategic advice rather than demanding whatever’s hot at the time.”

    Clients and internal clients need to listen – instead of follownig the bone!

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