Back to Journal

Don’t Give Up on Digital

We’ve all seen sensationalist headlines reporting big name brands reducing their digital spend. Procter & Gamble are perhaps one of the most high profile cases in recent memory, cutting somewhere in the region of $100-140 million in digital advertising spend. The reasons cited for this were, according to AdWeek “brand safety concerns and ineffective ads”.

Reading a little further into the matter reveals some sort of conflict or miscommunication between P&G and their partner agencies – after a presumably fairly pragmatic and brutal review of their agency relationships at the start of this year. Now, what are the logical conclusions to draw from this? Referring to an article from Marketing Week, exactly a week after AdWeek originally broke the story, we see the headline “Will other brands follow P&G’s lead and cut digital ad spend?”. Ah yes, that old chestnut. A big brand cuts digital spend, so of course, that must mean digital doesn’t work.

There is a flaw in this logic, and forgive us if you have already (rightly) come to this conclusion yourself. The Drum’s Tom Goodwin described that flaw particularly well, writing: “When we think of digital only as an ad unit or media channel, we misunderstand everything about it. We take something profoundly transformative and stick it in the most constraining of vehicles… ‘Digital’ isn’t a thing, it’s a new way of thinking and a new canvas to work with” when it comes to conveying your brand and what makes you different. In coming to the knee-jerk conclusion that digital doesn’t work, we assume that any digital experience that doesn’t immediately entice a customer to buy has somehow failed. That’s when we start withdrawing digital spend or, worse still, start doubting the power of digital full stop.

Brands are too easily distracted by possibilities when it comes to digital, not what actually makes sense for the brand and reputation they have built up to that point. Digital is a blessing and a curse in this regard, brands are swept up by real time statistics seeing when people do and don’t click, and then make changes in the heat of the moment as easy win responses to figures they don’t like the look of. In other words, once again as Goodwin puts it, “in a world of shortermism, it’s better to ruthlessly mug people that were always going to buy a hotel stay in your hotel, than build long term equity in the brand to exploit for years”. Brand building through digital isn’t given a second thought in so many cases, and we just can’t fathom why.

We have already seen that P&G’s seeming loss of faith in digital was, in fact, nothing of the sort. If anything, their reduced digital budget looks more like a penalty levied at their partner agencies for either not responding to, or not making enough changes after P&G’s agency review at the start of 2017. We can’t fall victim to sensationalist headlines. We can’t lose faith in digital as a brand building tool.