It’s Now 2016, Time to Ban the Word Digital.

Tom Goodwin on 2016-01-03

The word digital is becoming an irrelevance, it’s used as a proxy or synonym for modern or innovative , it’s increasingly redundant, but worse than that it’s destroying the way businesses can exploit the new power of technology.

Here’s a fun quiz: What is the both the largest and fastest growing media channel in the world?

The answer of course is electrical media. In fact if you add up TV, Mobile, Digital, Radio, Cinema, Social and Search, it’s clear that of all agency types the best place to be right now is at an Electrical Agency.

I bet some of you think this answer is cheating. After all electricity can’t be a media channel because despite being perfectly and tightly defined it’s way too vague. The term covers too many disparate fields so it loses any useful distinction, it’s oblique.

We all know this stupid approach is technically accurate and scientifically defendable, but innately we feel it to be useless. It’s missing the point. We know better.

So in 2016 we don’t have electrical strategists, electrical departments or electrical agencies with their electrical creatives. We don’t have conferences about electrical disruption, electrical consumers and the electrical future. We don’t reward the best electrical campaigns at Cannes or talk about the boost in sales due to electrical commerce.

Now, it’s not that electrical power isn’t vitally important, we know that electricity is a transformational element, but we don’t think about it. It’s just a part of the modern landscape. It’s not an organizing principle, it’s background. We only ever think about electricity when we don’t have it.

And can you begin to imagine how stupid it would be for a company to assign money to an electrical budget, or celebrate the hiring of an Electrical director to spend this money.

Digital is the same.

In the year 2015 we’ve got 4 billion video views on Facebook per day, we’ve got Toddlers swiping Tablet computers nonchalantly, we are getting real time traffic information from aggregated information from hundreds of millions of smartphones, we’re trading trillions of dollars of shares in microseconds and at the speed of light, yet we still consider Digital to be a thing.

We talk about the internet as if it’s a place we go, as if we still plug in modems, modern people don’t “go online” in the same.

We’ve become obsessed with the pipe, when for people it’s irrelevant.

Our casual use of the word digital, our pointless insertion of it all over the internet is insane, we rarely mean digital.

In 2015 we still have digital advertising agencies, digital departments and we speak of digital ad spend coming from digital budgets. We reward the best digital innovation. We read about digital trends that form the digital future, from Digital Journalists, who often write for digital media outlets or in the digital wing of traditional media companies.

We know they are traditional media companies because while they may host 150 websites, be producing stoppable content for the Apple TV, be making VR content for the first time in the world or producing incredible rich online videos, these companies are not “tech” companies.

What does a tech company mean?

A tech company is a company that uses a lot of technology, but for reasons never explained has to be both young and trendy.

The vast logistical complexity optimized by UPS to deliver nearly 5 billion parcels per year or the incredible science behind drug development Pfizer or automotive excellence at Audi for some reason don’t make these companies Tech companies.

Yet Uber’s ability to make a nice app, GoPro’s ability to brand a camera in a youthful way and Tesla’s ability to assemble cars make them prime tech companies because they are younger and have CEO’s that TechCrunch and Mashable recognize.

In fact every company is a tech company or should be.

Our thinking is limiting progress.

This isn’t just a facile rant, it’s a serious complaint about the way we work and how it’s limiting every single company that doesn’t get it.

In the new world it’s easy to say you are start up or a turnaround, but it’s not that simple. What is simple is you’re either working around people and what’s possible, or working around technology and the past.

When something new arrives in the world in order to deal with it we set up specialist units. We cordon off a part of the building or set up an office in Austin. We buy funkier and brighter sofas, employ people who are younger and more casual clothes and we buy neon signage.

And while it’s great to pioneer and experiment, innovation shouldn’t be at the edge, it should be central. We can’t employ digital talent and give them digital budgets, we must ensure our entire company is taking advantage of new technology, not just a department.

Many companies are still built around silos reflecting what’s important to them, in the same way we know it’s frustrating that airlines think flying to Newark is totally different to flying to La Guardia, it’s of massive interest and importance to whole parts of adland if the ad I see on TV is delivered via Crackle or Fox but it’s not to me.

These false silos cause structural problems in how we do our work. They distract us and force conversations around the pipe and not the content. We shouldn’t ever be thinking mobile first or digital first, we should focus entirely on people first.

At Havas we’re making these changes, we have processes that focus on how people behave, not what pipe is best, we don’t separate video from TV, print from online, we work around modern behaviors.

As an industry we now need to create amazing ad experiences that flow from one screen to the next. How do we empathize with people. How do we create meaningful connections that allow people to best experience brands. How do we sell products in an age where the purchase funnel is a swipe right. Let’s blow up useless demographics like “heavy smartphone users”, let’s stop useless truisms like “today’s digitally connected consumer”

Like electricity, a whole generation of people have now grown up with innate knowledge about technology and what it means, they are not digital specialists or Millennials, they are not heavy smartphone users or other useless vague demographics. These are just people living in digital age or as I like to call it, Today.

We thrive on the appointment of specialists who can code, I’d rather we focused on smart people who can both dream and understand people.

So let’s arrange our companies around the audience not tools, let’s accept digital for what it is, oxygen to make things happen not a department to put aside, let’s flourish together in a world free of lazy assumptions and muscle memory of the past and to help us get there, let’s ban the word digital.