'Don't Budget by Medium'

And Other Words of Wisdom on Erasing False Distinctions Between Digital and 'Old' Media

By Published on .

Buried in a keynote presentation by Yahoo Chief Marketing Officer Cammie Dunaway was this advice to marketers: "Don't budget by medium." And as Tony Weisman, Digitas Chicago president, pointed out, they may have been the wisest words spoken during Advertising Week. (Cammie appeared at a MasterClass event presented by the folks who brought you the Venice Festival of Media, and co-hosted by Ad Age.)

It strikes me as kind of funny (odd funny, not ha-ha) how seemingly every speech by, or conversation with, an executive in the marketing, agency or media business, invariably touches on two themes that are absurdly obvious and contradictory at the same time: 1) digital has got to be at the core of everything you do, and; 2) an idea or consumer insight has got to be at the core of everything you do.

My first inclination is to dismiss both as empty buzzphrases. But they come up so constantly it's worth a deeper exploration into the psychology of the business to determine the root of the obsession. It may simply be fear-based, a mantra from those over 40 who may "get" digital but know they don't feel it in their bones the way the 25-year-olds gunning for their jobs do.

What bothers me most is how often the phrases are articulated in the same conversation without the speaker noting that they can't co-exist because they cancel each other out. If a technology or platform is at the core of your strategy, then an idea or insight isn't, and vice-versa.

My second favorite phrase of the week wasn't spoken in front of an audience, but over lunch with Carat CEO David Verklin, who was offering a deeper dive into his recent decision to merge Carat's offline and online operations. Said David (by way of explaining why keeping the units separate but forcing them work together wasn't good enough): "Synchronization isn't integration." Amen.

I've touched on this topic before, but if there's one thing that makes me want to scream, it's the false lines otherwise-intelligent people insist on drawing between digital and everything else. It creates a deep split down the center of the business, fosters an atmosphere of fear on one side (traditional media) and smugness on the other (cough, digital), confuses clients, distracts from more urgent priorities and ultimately ensures that ideas and insights are forced to the side.

And it's meaningless. Andy Von Kennel of PHD North America, another MasterClass speaker, pointed out the absolute absurdity of a statement such as the following: "We want to use traditional media in non-traditional ways." For anyone who's ever bought or sold a creative media concept in any non-digital format, the sentence is a slap in the face, as insulting and condescending as the words "old media."

It doesn't matter whether an idea is executed via a social-networking site or an ad on the side of a bus. It matters whether the idea is good. I mean, really, why do I even have to say something that obvious? Yet, sadly, it seems necessary not only to say it but to hammer home the point repeatedly.

Rather than reinforcing an artificial divide, agencies, marketers and media owners need to alter their structures, business models, compensation incentives and strategies. Then, perhaps, they can bridge the gap, or, better yet, make it disappear.

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