March 08, 2018

Digital First Equals Me First

"Digital first" is the philosophy of imbeciles who know the answer before they know the question.

They know the treatment before they know the condition. They know what tool to use before they know what's broken. Imagine a doctor whose philosophy is "appendectomy first." He knows the cure before he knows the disease.

There is no other industry that would accept such manifest stupidity. But it is not just alive in our industry, it is commonplace.

There are a few reasons why this idiocy exists. First, and most understandable, is that it's what some people were taught. They learned it in school and have sought to learn nothing new since. They have made a practice of interpreting the world through its myopic lens.

Believing in the rapidly decomposing digital fantasy (see this and this,) they never bothered to acquire any other advertising or marketing knowledge. If the only tool you have is a hammer...well, you know the rest.

These people are ignorant, but it is usually an honest ignorance.

But there's another group of "digital firsters" who are not nearly as ignorant and not nearly as honest. They are the ones who put digital first because it is more lucrative. They have found that they can make more money buying digital advertising than traditional advertising. It doesn't really matter to them what's best for you, they know what's best for them.

Sadly, reading between the lines of the ANA's media transparency investigation, some agencies seem to fit nicely into this box. They have no ideological commitment to digital, they have an ideological commitment to money.

Mark Ritson wrote a couple of compelling pieces about this recently in The Australian. Unfortunately, The Australian is behind a paywall so I can't link you to his pieces. After quoting a few media experts who assert that...
- commissions on traditional media usually run the in the 3% range
- commissions on digital media run in the 7-10% range
- because of automation, digital media are no longer any more difficult or time consuming to buy than traditional media
- agencies often set digital media buying quotas for media buyers to meet
... Prof. Ritson concludes...
"...let's also accept something that no one in the industry wants to talk about: that digital media gets a much greater share of the pie than news media (print) because it is more profitable for the agencies that recommend it."
"...The simple marginal profit that agencies make from digital media is almost triple what they would get from channeling the money to news media."
As I said in my Type A Group Newsletter last week, Prof. Ritson is too wise and prudent to make outright accusations. I'm not. There is no doubt in my mind that to some agencies "digital first" is just code for "me first."

Does this mean that everyone who recommends a digital media buy is a doofus or a crook? Of course not. There are circumstances when an online buy is a perfectly reasonable recommendation. But anyone with a functioning brain will consider what the problem is before he recommends a solution. Anyone who starts with the solution -- e.g., "digital first" -- is a fool.

Here's a surefire litmus test for determining who you're dealing with. If they have the answer ready before you tell them the question, they're either imbeciles or opportunists.

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