There is an interesting post getting a few feathers ruffled online which is entitled “below the line agencies should stay there” from one frustrated digital designer. This actually plays right into a thought I have been mulling around recently.

In the real world, we have design agencies and ad agencies. In the closed shop virtual world of digital, everyone who has ever designed a website gets the role of building ads at some point, and then gets disappointed when no-one clicks on them (if they care at all).

Let’s be honest, there are probably half a dozen true digital ad agencies in the UK (as in most countries), I am talking specialty shops who understand how to motivate users online, and the rest really should stick to making websites, because that is what they are good at – and there should be nothing wrong with that.

Most web designers are great at laying out digital content and developing e-commerce sites, some are fantastic at creating amazing brand indulgent experiences, but the fact few websites are search engine friendly proves to me that marketing is a serious oversight in the average designers mind. How therefore can you really expect these same people to develop online advertising concepts that truly work? Digital designers and digital marketers – choose your colour, nail it to the mast and stand your ground. I had to make that decision a long time ago, and encourage you to do the same and for the record one is not better than the other, they are just different, with different outlooks and motivations.

Not everyone will recreate Las Vegas online You would not create an amazing new car showroom, complete with a jaw-dropping experience as you walk through the door and then decide to build it in the middle of a dessert – considering how to ship people from the city to the dessert afterwards. It’s location, location, location! Yet in truth, that is what most media agencies and creative agencies find themselves trying to do. Not everyone is going to re-create Las Vegas… and certainly not on a tiny budget and short time-frames. It takes years to create destination sites that people flock to, and you are not going to do it in three months unless you are flipping lucky or very, very talented at such an art form. Online users stick to a key number of sites (I hazard a guess) about 80-90% of their time online, and visit the plethora of other sites very infrequently. Digital advertising should be about creating experiences in situ, not expecting people to travel elsewhere. After all isn’t this how Outdoor or TV works and is justified?

We are crippling the industry with poor click-through rates and lying to advertisers that these rates mean something they do not, and then trying to get people whose money we are spending to care about something that has no bearing on a true digital experience – mine or yours, let alone anyone else’s.

How many times have YOU ever bought something as a result of clicking on an ad? Be honest, how many times have you ever clicked on an ad? How many micro sites have you ever really visited – and enjoyed? Surely a truer representation is that you saw something offline, talked about it with mates, went and looked it up on Google, read a review somewhere, then found yourself buying it on Amazon. Half the time I never actually visit the advertiser’s website, let alone their product micro site. Well we need to penetrate that user methodology with an advertising message that complements the content and consumer life-cycle and find new ways of justifying it, then we can all sit around and discuss above and below-the-line afterwards – once we have proved the ‘line’ on the graph showing increased sales moving steadily upwards in a chart in the client’s CFO’s excel sheet.

And for the record where does this “line” exist in on-line anyway when agencies are intent on measuring brand with a response-based metric…?

Cost-per-engagement, brand-response…it’s like a ‘uniform of independence’ of kids preaching individuality and then gravitating towards a group of like-minded individuals wearing the same clobber. Oh that digital advertising would just grow up and stop acting like a spoilt teenager!