In Digital Debate, We Are Mistaking Tools for Strategies

A Screwdriver Doesn't Replace a Hammer; Social Won't Replace Traditional

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The debate over the best way to commune with consumers continues to rage. It's like arguing that there is only one best kind of shoe to wear. Just as a person must consider how he wants to use his feet before picking a pair of shoes, advertisers need to consider the marketing goal before they select the communication channel to achieve it. But we seem to have taken a wishy-washy approach in helping advertisers see communication channels as tools. A tool may do one thing very well. But you can be assured that if used for other purposes it fails miserably.

For example, it's obvious that a pair of pliers is not a screwdriver. If you've ever tried to remove a screw with a pair of pliers you've paid the price. The same holds true when using one communication channel, like social media, to do another tool's job.

In the May 23 of Ad Age , an article on Razorfish Co-Founder Jeff Dachis' latest venture highlighted the selling of social against traditional marketing. I realize Dachis claims to be on another ethereal plane of engagement, but it still sounded like the same old sales pitch to me. To wit: Dachis feels advertisers should take dollars away from the traditional to fund social. That's like saying you should buy tap shoes instead of cowboy boots. Tap dancing has its place. But what if I need to rope some cows? Hmm. Guess cowboy boots aren't totally useless after all. Social has its place and traditional media has its place. It's not this or that . It's all of the above.

I'm not the first to talk about our industry's lack of commitment in leading clients through the new age of marketing. But it bears repeating because I hear a lot of chatter in our industry and from advertisers that suggests new communication channels are replacements rather than supplements to integrated branding efforts.

To lead we need a deeper understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of every tool in the advertising toolbox so that we are able instruct our clients on the proper use of each tool. It's obvious that many of us do not.

We are showing some laziness when it comes to understanding how the new and better way to do things fits into the brand-building complex. Perhaps it's from fear of losing some income. Perhaps it's because we need to better understand how to achieve business goals using marketing principles.

It's harder than it used to be. But think of it this way: The new complexity of marketing offers the greater opportunity of becoming more indispensable.

Advertisers are still looking to our industry to provide the answers. We had better respond accurately and with conviction before someone else does -- taking the opportunity away, along with our clients.

Bart Cleveland is partner, creative director, McKee Wallwork Cleveland, Albuquerque, N.M.
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