So ‘Digital Marketing’ Is Not A Thing And We Have To Stop Calling You ‘Millennials’

Editor of The Vocal

Approx 7 minute reading time

Well, have we been schooled. Professor Mark Ritson gave a lecture recently about the death of the traditional vs digital divide in marketing and before I lose your attention, it’s actually really interesting.

Basically it turns out that everything we thought we knew about about the hot new digital trends, is mostly just horseshit dressed up in a digital marketer’s suit.

Regardless of whether you’re in marketing, the media, a client or just some rando who takes an interest in great online takedowns and owns and agencies being eviscerated in front of their very own eyes, his arguments are pretty spot on (and funny) and they really make you think. You’ll have to watch the whole thing to see what I mean but here are some key learnings.

Social media is useful to brands for fuck all

There are too many misconceptions flying around all over the place when it comes to the new fandangled digital tools and this is especially the case for social media. It’s important to remember that social media is still relatively new as an industry. It’s barely even a decade old as a thing people use, let alone as a thing companies need to understand, which took a lot longer to happen.

When you actually break it down (and Ritson does do this) the amount of customers actually viewing and engaging in your content is miniscule, compared to how many customers you actually have. The attention given to social media is disproportionate, given statistics show that the demographics marketers are trying to target are still watching and engaging in hours and hours of television. It also shows how particular sites are worse for brands than others, like Twitter for example.

And yet many businesses continue to funnel pre-determined and higher budgets into social media specifically, believing if they don’t, they’ll seem ancient and out of touch.

As someone who has worked in social media for the last 6 years, I can definitely attest to how completely useless a medium it is for some businesses. In the media, it starts to make more sense, as people are consuming news and content in new ways. But for brands? It may seem like it’s still the best new thing, but actually on many platforms, customers don’t want to interact with brands, particularly younger ones. You can dispute the evidence and things may be changing quite rapidly, but the fact remains that we have less and less control over social media content and we continue to pretend it provides loads of added benefits that other more traditional mediums don’t have, but we’re yet to see actual evidence proving this.

Stop with the “Digital vs. Traditional” horse shit

“It doesn’t make any sense! The whole thing is maddening!” Ritson exclaims.

“Give me the name of a single non-digital media.

To best illustrate this point, Ritson quotes Tom Goodwin, a swanky looking fella who he claims is one of the best in the industry. 

Goodwin writes in The Guardian

“There is not a more meaningless divide and obsession than the notion of digital media. Media channels were once clearly distinguished and named from the physical devices that we used to consume them. Radio ads played on radios and were audio, TV ads played on TV’s and were moving images, newspaper ads were images in the paper while outdoor ads were the images around us. In 2014 the naming legacy is both misleading and of no value. I listen to the radio on my phone, read the newspapers on a laptop, watch YouTube on my TV and read magazines on my iPad. Our old media channels mean nothing yet their names survive and mislead us into artificially limited thinking. We focus endlessly on battles of no meaning like on whether digital is eating TV, rather than unleashing our minds on the new possibilities and how best to buy media and supply messages in the digital age.”

Old media channels mean nothing. Artificially limited thinking.

If you’ve ever been in a marketing team that was divided by digital and traditional, as I have once done, you may now start to be waking from this nightmare and realising how silly you must have felt a few years ago, trying to push your little digital agenda and in denial of how the world was already so far down the digital track, that your attempts to push the future into the agenda were quite futile really.

“It’s not about doing ‘digital marketing’ it is about marketing effectively in a digital world” – Ivan Mendes from Diageo. Well said, Ivan.

Get rid of Digital Marketers

“What the fuck do the non-digital marketers do in your company? Do they smoke woodbines and listen to the radio? Do they read the radio times? And pick up a phone receiver and talk to their aunty in Queensland? What the fuck do they do? It doesn’t make any sense”.

So the problem is that as a result of this divide, they’ve created siloes, forcing themselves into tiny, limited places.

“Suddenly I’ve got these digital marketers who don’t want anything to do with TV or print, goodness forbid, it’s not digital”.

“Start doing something better. And the something better is called marketing. And we need you. And we don’t need D anymore, get rid of it.”

You heard the man, get rid of that D, friends.

You don’t need some arbitrary “digital” team, what you need is a strategy

“The minute you start with “digital” you’re an idiot”

Ritson says you need to go back to strategy, to work out who your customer is, work out what your strategy is, and then work out what’s the best way for you to reach them. Digital skills alone won’t help you in this new world where digital is actually everything.

Stop obsessing about millennials

This is a pretty funny one for us, given we use the term millennials to describe our mission statement, and they are our main audience. Seriously, what else would we call them? How else do we talk about them? But Ritson strikes again and it’s pretty funny.

“Stop obsessing about millennials. They don’t fucking exist, they’re not a segment…the idea that the 12 million people in Australia that are qualified as millennials are all the same, is horeshit, lazy marketing, it doesn’t exist. It’s what we do when we don’t know what we’re doing.”

“The obsession with them is because they prove our point. They’re the most digital group of all.”

This is quite telling since, recently I’ve found myself fielding questions from people asking how The Vocal differs from other millennial sites. They don’t specifically say ‘millennial’ sites, but they name a bunch which could be defined as such (Buzzfeed, Junkee, Pedestrian). I find this fascinating, since it’s so rare that publications have ever been grouped and categorised by their audiences. Nobody puts the Sydney Morning Herald in the same category as the ABC, just because they happen to target similar audience demographics. They obviously do some pretty different things.

And yet now, everywhere we look we’re assaulted with the many ‘new media digital millennial’ sites: Mic, Vox, Vice, AJ+, the list goes on. They’re all pretty different but they continue to get labelled by the audience that consumes them. To me this says more about the people who refuse to take a new generation seriously. The mainstream media world long underestimated Buzzfeed and then had to backtrack when they realised Buzzfeed were starting to do an impressive job in reporting and investigations. This is the weird new world we live in. Everyone is out there having a go, creating the next big thing and it’s about time we take them seriously, instead of dismissing them because we assume there’s only one way for a millennial site to exist (fickle, short attention span, low quality, listicles, cats). As for how The Vocal differs from the sites you’re tempted to compare it to, well you can read all about our little experiment here.

So tl;dr: open your mind to all media options and remember that consumers see no distinction between traditional and digital tools. They move through the world using both seamlessly, so you should too. And we promise to stop using the word ‘millennials’ like it’s going out of fashion (it has).