Digital-only agencies face a challenge: what if it doesn’t work?

Is there a growing perception in marketing land that digital ain’t all it’s cracked up to be?

Yes, the tide is still relentless with digital increasing its share of the ad market to well over 60% (although much of this is search, really direct marketing.) But sales results, for some anyway, have been disappointing. A click doesn’t mean a sale although Amazon, with its rapidly-growing ad business, seems to have an advantage here.

Agencies too seem to be trying to broaden their offer. MediaMonks’ new MD Joanna Cotton, moving from Oliver, says she wants to “reposition” the agency, not so long ago deemed to be the future as it drove S4 Capital’s growth.

Making the comparison with Oliver, now owned by David Jones’ Brandtech Group, she says: “We both started out servicing clients from a lower-funnel perspective. Now we’re expanding our capabilities into the broader digital ecosystem to be a better-rounded partner for clients.”

Might this mean, as well as more digital services, more capable creative?

What we used to call above-the-line advertising may have lost ground in spend terms to the digital behemoths (although they do plenty of it themselves) but it’s still the best way to build brands. Building a brand isn’t the click-and-collect model most digital agencies promote. Sales come down the line.

But to do this you need strong creative, which means good, experienced creative people and the willingness to take risks. There are some signs that digital-only agency MediaMonks is struggling creatively with its flagship account BMW.

There will always, probably, be a majority of people in marketing who think (or hope) it can be turned into a science: risk-free like a vaccine that works. But really it isn’t: art has always played a big role alongside the so-called science (must of which gets quietly dumped over time.)

In putting all their eggs in the science basket agencies have lost what made them most valuable.

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