Every time I hear marketing people use the word “digital,” and indeed I use it myself, I keep going back to something Rishad Tobaccowala wrote in his insightful essay, Four Thoughts on the Future of Advertising: “The world might be digital but people are analog.”
He gives plenty of texture around the comment (how agencies overcompensate for various deficiencies by stressing digital, etc.), but one can take the comment at face value and still glean plenty, especially in the wake of Steve Jobs’ recent passing.
From day one, Jobs understood how much technology depended on the human touch, figuratively and literally. And that if there were a one-word catch-all, it wouldn’t be “digital” but rather “design.” And design, Jobs said, was not merely how good something looked but how well it worked.
To him (and for us), digital was more than just tools but extensions of our limbs and imaginations. Not hardware and software. Lifeware! Sight, feel and now voice are the operating principles that drive Apple. Not “technology solutions,” a phrase, like the word digital, that couldn’t sound more inhuman if it tried.
Oh, the irony! For the last decade or longer, we marketing geniuses have gone great guns trying to bolster our digital creds, doing everything in our power to look savvy, often at the expense of working savvy. We learned the hard way that flashy microsites were likely meaningless to our clients’ businesses. And hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube often meant winning a popularity contest without any prize. We realized that brands aren’t social just because they’re on Facebook and Twitter. And so on …
The costs have been tremendous—to us and to our clients. But make no mistake, because clients are as culpable as we are. The clamoring for digital came from all corners. I’d argue that social media (another techie term) has exploded the myth of digital, reminding us tweet by tweet that people are and always will be living, breathing human beings; in other words: analog.
However painful the learning curve, this is good news for those of us toiling in Ad Land. Agencies are at their best when we put ideas before clients and, dare I say, technology.
Steffan Postaer is Executive Creative Director of gyro San Francisco
Follow him @Steffan1
He blogs regularly at Gods of Advertising.