The shift from “traditional” to digital marketing was, at first, a ground-breaking one. The goal was to revolutionise the delivery of ads in innovative and increasingly effective ways. However, over the last 20 years or so, digital marketing has strayed far from the initial promise, falling under scrutiny from regulators, CEOs and consumers alike. Instead of reinventing the industry, the shift to digital has overwhelmed consumers with intrusive and irrelevant ads, prompting the question: what went wrong?
I gathered some of the most influential minds in digital marketing to address this very question. In an underground venue in Shoreditch, the panel featured the “Ad Contrarian” Bob Hoffman, Rory Sutherland of Ogilvy, sceptical futurist Theo Priestley, and other notable leaders in the marketing sphere.
We came together to discuss the current challenges faced by the industry and explore how digital marketers can collaborate to address them.
After a lively debate, a clear consensus emerged: digital marketing has veered off course, particularly concerning ethics and effectiveness. We condensed the group’s thoughts into a bold new manifesto for the marketing world.
Endorsed by some of the industry’s most prominent figures, this new manifesto sets out a list of core principles for getting digital marketing back on track:
Avoid Data Gluttony
Marketers have become increasingly notorious for their insatiable appetite for data, a trend that has no doubt been exacerbated by the shift to a digital economy. While data is vital for providing marketers with insights on their target audiences, the industry has become overly fixated on data collection, often at the expense of strategy.
Instead of amassing every shred of data available, marketers should focus on devising thoughtful strategies and only using data that is directly relevant to customers’ purchasing intentions.
Ditch the Stereotypes
Making generalisations about your audience is among the worst mistakes a digital marketer can make. This is why relying on demographic information, such as gender, race, age, or other factors, is largely unproductive.
Marketers should concentrate on audience behaviours, specifically their interests as demonstrated through purchasing patterns. Targeting based on purchase behaviour will play a crucial role in advertising strategies moving forward. It’s a far more constructive alternative to outdated demographic assumptions.
Abandon Useless Metrics
Digital technologies were expected to make campaign results more transparent. In reality, businesses are swamped with worthless metrics that fail to offer insight on crucial information like the bottom line.
Research reveals that 55% of CEOs regard most digital marketing metrics as “meaningless” – think impressions, likes and retweets, for example. For digital marketers to be taken seriously, they must present clear, tangible objectives that translate directly to the bottom line.
Prioritise Quality Over Quantity
The prevalence of cookie-cutter ads online starkly contrasts with the creative spirit of traditional advertising, where marketers would strive to develop the most captivating campaigns.
As Rory Sutherland put it, “there is brilliant, brilliant, work done in creative digital marketing, of the Cannes-winning, big-programme, platform-pay kind — but the day-to-day stuff I see hasn’t seen a copywriter.”
Digital ads must be infused with the same creativity and storytelling found in award-winning campaigns. Producing lacklustre ads and expecting click-through and conversion rates to improve is pure delusion.
I highlighted this issue in my talk, pointing to the 35% of search ads that never reach their intended audience, and the 26% shown to individuals with no interest in buying. This equates to a staggering $60 billion in squandered ad spending.
Therefore, the focus should be on running fewer ads with exceptional creativity and precise targeting. That’s how you maximise return on investment.
Don’t be Intrusive
Bob Hoffman referenced a study indicating that ad tech companies hold 72 million data points on the average child before they turn 13. This emphasises the extent to which advertisers treat consumers as mere data sources — and it’s got to stop.
Today’s consumers are increasingly aware that they are being monitored and exploited for their personal information. With emerging technologies on the horizon, there’s a justified fear that the situation concerning privacy could get worse before it gets better.
Ultimately, instead of finding increasingly invasive methods, marketers should embrace anonymised data and prioritise user consent.
Fixing the Industry, Together
Although digital marketing is currently flawed, it hasn’t yet reached the point of no return. By acknowledging and addressing the issues outlined in our manifesto, and committing to more ethical and effective strategies, digital marketers can work together to reform the industry and begin to regain public trust.
Digital marketing has immense potential, value, and the ability to deliver outstanding consumer experiences. Let’s start reshaping it, beginning now.