The Digital Taliban

Advertising and marketing clients and agencies seem to have a need for novelty. When I say need, it is something like needing Heroin -- the industry just can't break the trend drug.

The industry lurches from one fad to the next and everyone tries to outdo the next guy on how up-to-date and "with it" they are on the trend du jour. Remember Optimizers? remember Econometric Modeling?

In our defense creating "trends" and recognizing them is pretty much what we do, and we haven't cornered the market on lemming-like behavior, just look at Wall Street.

However, at base we are hired by our clients to act as their agents and councilors on the marketplace and how they should take advantage of these trends or sussing out if the trend is just mere snake oil. But all too often in our rush to appear like we are different than the next guy and part of "in" crowd, we end up being cheerleaders for those things that we should be taking a skeptical look at.

Digital is our newest trend and has developed its own Talibanic following. Yes digital has been around for a while and for a long time it was almost wholly (and wrongfully) ignored; we now seem to have done a 180 and to not a big and largely blind supporter of any digital trend or company isn't tolerated.

This has become so prevalent that the very people that clients have been paying to offer them advice on how to take advantage of the new and changing playing field have become unskeptical cheerleaders for whatever is new.

A case in point was an article published last week by the digital head of a fairly large agency in one of the trade publications; the topic of the article was the coming ascendancy of Facebook and Twitter in the mobile marketplace. The point of the article was largely to say that both Facebook and Twitter would become arbiters on the mobile marketplace because they had "nailed" tracking of mobile users. (Mobile usage is difficult to track as one can't drop cookie on mobile devices).

The problem is that nothing in the article is anywhere near fact:

1) Yes mobile usage is going up but how does it follow that Facebook and Twitter are going to become the main beneficiaries of that growth even if they have better tracking?

2) The fact is that both companies are increasingly having a hard time being relevant. Twitter investors are running for the door because they can't make any money and Facebook for the first time lost users last month. They had a 1% drop in US unique users. 1% is a small percentage but when you are as big as Facebook, 1% means that 1.4 million people who previously were using Facebook just didn't bother to login in the past month. Nothing says "you got trouble" for a media outlet than when people can't even be bothered to log-in, or tune-in, or read anymore.

3) Add to this the fact that young demo cohorts almost universally don't see the point of Facebook and Twitter and think they are yesterday's technology and really only useful as a way for them to "keep up with mom" and things are only going to get worse for both companies.

4) Last I heard, most advertisers were feeling the jury was out on the effectiveness of advertising on both Facebook and Twitter. Very few are finding that there is ROI there. So saying that somehow better ability to track is going to make everything great just doesn't... well... track.

5) Far from "nailing" mobile tracking, just off the top of my head, I can think of at least two other tracking services, and three other trading desks and other media owners who are much closer to "nailing" it and doing it across all media.

Now it is everyone's right to have an opinion and say what they wish. The trade magazine in which the article appears allows comments to stimulate conversation and the whole of the industry is welcome to comment and discuss this as well as any other opinion.

But here's where the orthodoxy and the Digital Taliban come in.

Is a conversation developing around this opinion?

Sadly, no, there was only one comment on this article, which praised the article as "a really good post" and the article has been passed on 86 times on Facebook, 132 times on Twitter, and 110 times on Linked In all of which I assume were positive. How many times have you passed on an article you thought questionable?

Now if I'm a client I have to start wondering just what sort of advice am I getting on my digital plans from my agency and just how deep the person who is supposed to be guiding my investing is in the Digital Taliban.