June 14, 2009

What's the Time?

I realize that the conversation pitting traditional Vs digital has been going on for some time now and that it has probably gotten to the point where the mere mention of the topic induces nausea and anxiety.

If I had a nickel for the amount of times AdAge and AdWeek have featured articles on this topic plus the various blog posts, commentary and panel conversations not to mention a certain bubbly society that prides itself on this very distinction, I would be a very rich man.

However I am going to go against my better judgment and speak about the topic because an amazing analogy came to me that I feel best describes the situation we find ourselves in now.

The Set Up: Definitions taken from Wikipedia.

Traditional advertising is a service business dedicated to creating, planning and handling overall marketing and branding strategies and sales promotions for its clients.

Traditional ad agency clients include businesses and corporations, non-profit organizations and government agencies. Agencies may be hired to produce an advertising campaign.


Interactive agencies differentiate themselves by offering a mix of web design/development, search engine marketing, internet advertising/marketing, or e-business/e-commerce consulting.

Interactive agencies rose to prominence before the traditional advertising agencies fully embraced the Internet.

The digital agencies offered a wide range of services and grew very rapidly, although some have downsized just as rapidly due to changing market conditions.

Today, the most successful interactive agencies are defined as companies that provide specialized advertising and marketing services for the digital space.

Now that we are clear on the distinctions lets move on to the "Vs" part.

Traditional agencies have been farming out digital work to the smaller digital agencies for 10-12 years now pretty much keeping them afloat in terms of large budgeted projects and the infusion of how to service these larger clients from a creative production standpoint.

The smaller digital agencies have been assiduous in learning how the larger agencies function and have adopted many of the same practices in hope that they will slowly evolve into one of these larger agencies with digital as the core and in time start to compete with the larger agencies that have been keeping them in business all these years.

The larger agencies provide their clients with a multitude of other services that are critical to formulating an entire campaign and require the ability to manage hundreds of people and tasks that a smaller digital agency would be overwhelmed with, making the larger agency the ideal starting point for the brands to formulate its message.

The smaller digital agencies are fast and nimble and can complete similar tasks, but not all, in half the time because they have been bred to work faster and turn around very complex technical and creative work in a very short amount of time.

Now as I thought about the two I wanted to apply them to a real world example that would help me better understand the relationship that the clients had with the two worlds.

Then it hit me. A Watch!

Think about it... what do most people have on their wrists to tell time?

I would say most people who appreciate fine time pieces that are accurate, stylish and expensive are walking around with an analog watch. A watch that has been built in a similar way for ages and a watch that has thousands of moving parts each one of them interacting with the other all to perform one small simple task. Telling the time.

Kind of like a... Traditional Agency.

How many digital models does Rolex make?

Why wouldn't someone who could afford a fine timepiece choose to get a geeked out digital watch?

Its just as accurate if not more accurate, it can be synced up with a satellite or a database, it has the ability to provide many other functions all in the same form factor and can be encased in gold, platinum or any number of metals.

A digital watch can be made to do virtually anything its buyer wants yet everywhere I look I see analog watches on the wrists of those people who I would consider in the same bracket as the decision makers at the big brands.

It seems that people choose the more traditional analog watch that has that reassuring ticking sound, with clear backs that display thousands of gears all moving at once all to serve one purpose and one purpose only, to tell you the time. I guess the psychological advantage is that each and every one of those gears is there to serve you in its own way.

Sure from time to time you have to wind it up or shake it or change its battery, but most people enjoy the small effort that they have to put into this seemingly complex object. In the mind of its owner it is a precise instrument that is worn on ones wrist so that they can better manage their lives.

Not that different than a traditional agency, don't you think?

Thousands of people teeming all at once doing this and that in order to come to the very same conclusion that a smaller digital agency may be able to come up with using a quarter of the people in half the time. The digital agency has all kinds of functions, animation, design, data, social media, it is plugged in to all kinds of data and can instantly expand things into a million new directions, yet clients seem to prefer the reliable gears all turning for the single purpose of servicing them and them alone.

It makes total sense to me when I think about it in these terms.

Why should advertising be any different? Why wouldn't the head of a big brand want the prestige of a Parmigiani over the geeky sleekness of a Rosendahl?

Now lets look at the price differences between the two.

You can get a digital watch from Timex, Rosendahl, Abacus or Garmin that is Bluetooth-enabled with caller ID that will tell you the weather, act as a USB drive and locate the nearest WiFi connection for under $200 dollars. WOW! (see that excited me).


You can get a Lange and Sohne, Alain Silberstein, Audemars Piguet, Blancpain, Breguet, Franck Muller, JLC, Parmigiani, Patek Phillipe, Ulysse Nardin, Vacheron Constantin within the price range of $5,000 - $2,000,000. These watches have hand finished mechanical movements and some additional mechanical complications like moon phases and power reserve indicators to very subtle ones like correctly handling all the obscure conditions of the Gregorian calendar.

Starting to see the comparisons?

Traditional agency Vs. Digital agency...

I admit that I personally do not wear a watch and I usually whip out my iPhone to tell me when my next appointment is.

And if I were to wear a watch I certainly would not feel comfortable sporting something that costs more than my buddies house. Nor would I want to have some geeked out digital watch that is solar powered with 8 selectable radio channels and 38 subcodes per channel and LEDs to indicate the hours and minutes in binary format.

So what is the solution?

Well, thats not for me to decide, but what I wanted to do here was to just present the situation against something that may help make a bit of sense to those who had some struggle with the whole Traditional Vs. Digital quandary and to put it into a little bit of a better perspective.

I will let you the reader decide what the answer is.


ba said...

The same argument (maybe not with watches) has been made between very large agencies and small agencies. In the past I was part of a very small agency (25 people) that won an airline AOR and I have to say it was like a snake swallowing a bowling ball.

The sheer volume of work that goes into handling a large piece of business will bury most small agencies, digital or not. We quickly went from 25 people to 50 people and immense growing pains as we struggled to get pieces in place to handle all of the work. This included more media people, more account people, more production talent, a lot more creative and the ramping up of all infrastructure elements like a more robust intranet.

You definitely need to brace yourself and be prepared well in advance to handle something like that.

ALSO, you need clients who are willing to work digitally and take advantage of what you have to offer.

And finally, digital shops need to evolve their own businesses or they'll end up partnering the other way. Especially in media buying.

Craig A. Elimeliah said...

Thanks for the feedback, great analogy of the snake swallowing the bowling ball.

That is what I think many smaller agencies do not get, its very easy to take on the title and go after the work but handling the day to day is not something I think most or even any smaller digital agency is prepared to handle right now.

What many digital agencies do not appreciate is the nuances that traditional agencies understand in relationship management and it really echos the point of how digital in general is a colder less personal experience and digital shops need to realize that handling a large brand is about coddling and communicating, reassuring and reinforcing rather than hitting the pedal to the metal and executing at lighting speeds.

It will take some time but we will get there.

Thanks for the input.

Chris Grayson - Minister of Propaganda, GigantiCo said...

I like this analogy. Clever, you could probably write several more pages riffing on it. It's only an analogy and like all analogies would break down eventually, but it's a good one. Bravo.