Given the overwhelmingly upbeat support of the advertising industry for all things digital, it is notable that one of the UK’s leading agencies, and a recognised thought leader, accepted the challenge of arguing the case against the digital revolution. Using the considerable intellectual resources normally reserved for the other side of the debate, BBH London wrote a deliberately provocative article for Viewpoint at the end of 2011. The piece, Majority report: looking through the digital hype, can be found here.
For those that don’t want to wade through it, here is a summary of the main points.
- Despite the possibilities of technical advances, the reality of “how people actually live and use technologies has changed very little. This gap between the myth and reality is ever-widening”. The average Briton in 2011 was living a very similar life to those twenty years earlier in terms of: hours of television watched per day, most popular news source (The Sun), number one brand (Coke), best selling car (Ford Fiesta), the economy and the National Health System remained the issues of most concern, and myriad behaviours relating to family life and leisure were unchanged.
- Purchase of new technologies is too often confused with adoption. For example, “only 20% of the average smartphone’s capacity is ever used”.
- “Even where a new medium is being used, it is primarily facilitating old behaviours. Despite the breadth of user-generated content, 98% of the UK’s viewing is of professionally produced film content…However, the illusion of revolution is so convincing that it affects how people perceive their own behaviour. On average PVR owners believe they watch over 70% of their TV on demand. The real figure is 14%. 86% of their viewing is traditional real-time broadcast. This ratio is not changing”.
Interestingly some of the most visible academic contributions to the case against digital hype come from the University of South Australia’s Ehrenburg-Bass Institute. Results of a study of the 200 biggest brands on Facebook, just released in 2012, found that less than 0.5% of fans actually engaged with a brand (that is undertook meaningful activity, including comment and share, rather than just ‘Like’). The study also found that Facebook fans were skewed towards heavy buyers, and that purchase frequency didn’t increase after someone became a fan.
This has led them to cautioning marketers and their agencies against "putting a disproportionate amount of effort into engagement and strategies to get people to talk about a brand, when you should be spending more time getting more light buyers".
The final post in this series will outline the approach agencies and clients should be taking given the questions being asked of the credibility of the digital revolution.
Glenn Myatt, Strategy Director