We’re fixated on tech - where's the balance?

Leah Dickenson
By Leah Dickenson | 25 February 2016
Leah Dickenson, digital director at Maxus Melbourne

When it comes to digital, Maxus’ Leah Dickenson reckons we’ve been so preoccupied with whether we could we haven’t stopped to think if we should...

Digital is media out of balance and in danger of becoming boring. Specifically, our focus on technology as the only form of innovation is boring. True innovation requires a mixture of technology and creativity, but at present we’re fixated on tech.

Until we find the right balance between technology and creativity we’ll never deliver true innovation.

This feeling has been nagging at me for some time and was crystallised by a recent presentation from Nick Vale, global head of planning for Maxus. Nick’s presentation stuck with me and got me thinking about our approach to digital media. It cemented my thoughts, namely that we’ve let technology squash creativity.

Nick talked through communication styles from the Romans to the present day. The earliest forms of communication were a ‘copy and share’ format; something much closer to the modern social media model than a broadcast model. The ‘share and copy’ era came to screeching halt in the golden age of newspapers. The need to maintain ownership over content saw the birth of the copyright. And from copyright sprang the Age of Broadcast. Broadcast dominated until the emergence of Facebook in 2004, and from here communication changed again. Broadcast was easy – audiences were big and you could smash them with your message. Broadcast was shooting fish in a barrel, but the age of the digital consumer means the fish are in back in the ocean…and they’re hard to catch.

Which brings us to our current landscape, and more specifically, the future we’re rushing towards. Digital media leads the change charge, with data and technology taking us to a world where we know so much about our consumer we can anticipate their every want and whim. Which is amazing – as marketers that’s the Holy Grail, right? We’re using technology to catch those fish. And that’s where things begin to get boring. If we have every thought and action covered then we have no space for creativity, no room for the big idea.

How did we get here? In the early days of digital, accountability was the selling point. Measuring the brand campaigns was an inexact science and clients who were new to the medium were reassured by the numbers. The best way to convince a traditional client who wasn’t sure about digital was to show them the reporting. We put a focus on the solid metrics like CPAs and the dearth of numbers became a proxy for credibility.

From accountability we moved into a technology arms race. Right now it feels as though we’re all selling ourselves on our technology alone. We’ve moved on from using numbers to prove our credibility to using technology. The conversation with our clients has become all about tech credentials – the better the technology behind the agency, the ‘better’ the agency is at digital. Creativity in planning and execution mean nothing so long as you can dazzle a client with endless tech acronyms. To steal a line from Jurassic Park, we’ve been so preoccupied with whether we could we haven’t stopped to think if we should.

Not to deny the great improvements data and programmatic have brought to digital media but we’ve come to a place where we’ve account-abled ourselves into a boring corner. We’re so worried about the technology that we use, so focused on the micro moments – the short term sales-driving interactions – that we’re ignoring the other moments, those with meaning. And by moments with meaning, I’m talking about the ones where humans engage and discover. And it’s within those moments creativity lives – the same creativity and excitement that drew so many of us to digital media. But it seems these days, technology is all we talk about.

Of the mediums, digital is the one that can live in that space between micro and meaning, the medium that can balance our use of technology with our use of creativity. Right now the balance is off and technology is dominating the digital conversation. Can we wrestle it back? I believe we can but it’s going to take a concerted effort on the behalf of the industry.
We’re comfortable hanging our hats on our tech credentials and need to challenge ourselves to push past that space and into a place where the two are balanced. Once we’ve found that balance we’ll produce truly innovative media campaigns.

By Leah Dickenson, digital director at Maxus Melbourne.

comments powered by Disqus