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Digital is dead. Long live digital.

by Nigel Hollis | October 07, 2013

Marc Pritchard, Procter & Gamble's global brand building officer, proclaimed digital dead at Dmexco and urged marketers to look beyond the pipes and plumbing of digital and social media to what really matters: engaging people with creative campaigns.

In his speech, Pritchard suggested that marketers need to:

Try and resist thinking about digital in terms of the tools, the platforms, the QR codes and all of the technology coming next.

Instead, he suggested:

... the future lay in building brands with campaigns that matter, make people think, feel and laugh. We have the chance to do all of those things now in a way that is so much more exciting than we did before.

Pritchard is correct to suggest that digital is dead. These days the division between digital and traditional exists only in the minds of marketers and engineers. Consumers simply see digital as part of their day-to-day lives.

Over 2 billion people now access the Internet worldwide, about one third of the global population. Facebook reaches one seventh of the world’s population. And in a few years’ time, smartphones will ensure that the reach of both is even greater. But the people that use these tools do so in conjunction with all the other aspects of their lives: relaxing, shopping and exploring. So a brand that is encountered online is no less a real world encounter than when it is seen in a store. 

Pritchard alludes to another good reason to declare digital dead. The current fixation with pipes and plumbing has led to a back to front focus on how to do things rather than what the brand needs to achieve.

If you have read any of my other blog posts on the use of digital media, my big concern has been that the technology has trumped taking a consumer-centric view of the world. But it also seems to have trumped taking a more strategic view of brand management. What the brand needs to achieve needs to come first, and then we need to ensure that the means fits with how consumers relate to brands and advertising across the different channels we use.

Of course, Millward Brown is as guilty of making artificial distinctions as any marketer. What do we call our Dynamic Logic and Compete media effectiveness and intelligence tools these days? Millward Brown Digital. Ho hum. 

So what are your thoughts? Is digital dead as a separate discipline? Please share your thoughts. 


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  1. Nigel, October 11, 2013
    I think I need to point out that, as Millward Brown's Global Brand Director for Digital, Duncan might have some skin in the digital game. Like many he lives in a digital world. Me, I just live in the world (which happens to be nicely wireless these days). :-)
  2. Duncan Southgate, October 08, 2013

    Pritchard’s challenge seems like a really helpful one, but to me it’s still aspiration rather than reality.

    I don’t think digital is yet dead as a separate discipline, certainly not any more so than TV or any other marketing channel is dead.  Detailed within channel expertise is still necessary to implement, execute and optimise your digital spend – and this becomes increasingly important as you are spending more of your media budget in digital channels.  So I foresee strong, ongoing growth for within digital optimisation (both on the marketing and research sides).  At Millward Brown (Digital!) this is resulting in ever more demand for solutions like AdIndex.

    I do agree that the greater opportunity for digital is “growing up” and becoming an integrated part of the whole.  Proving and understanding the role digital plays in the mix are the bigger questions that media directors and brand managers should be asking themselves. Within Millward Brown this is resulting in rapid growth of our CrossMedia solution.

    Another nice piece from that article is the way Pritchard described the strategy as 'Digital Back,' explaining: "start in the digital world and build your way back to the rest of the marketing mix. Our best agencies do that right now... it's an approach that is building our brand equities, our sales and our profits."

    To your point:  yes, consumers and brand strategies come first.  But I think Pritchard is then saying that (because consumers live in a digital world) you should ensure that digital is a core element of any campaign that gets developed.  Don’t just port your campaign from TV to digital.  We live in a lop-sided world where TV is still the default option for many brands, and digital won’t be “dead” until that imbalance is further eroded.    The ultimate aim is media-neutral planning.  To get there, on a people level this requires outreach from both sides – digital folk widening their horizons and “traditional” folk becoming more digitally fluent.

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