Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Digital Lethargy

Does digital make us lazy? Have we lost the urge just to do stuff or stand up and speak out for what we believe in? Does digital give us the chance to dabble in something but not actually see it through?

Well there have been a few things lately that have made me think about digital lethargy. The point in which a person’s interest or involvement online isn’t mobilised into something that arguably has a greater influence and/or effect (it's not a real post unless you have coined a term by the way). Perhaps it is political or merely something more fulfilling personally. Or maybe even a sale.

I criticise myself a lot for being too lazy. I have strong opinions about politics and the environment, but I don't really do anything about it. I rarely read the paper properly anymore. I use Facebook instead of making an effort to go and visit friends and family. I go on many cool branded sites but rarely buy the product or even think differently about it, at least not consciously. And of course posting too much about things other people have said or done rather the things I have done or think.

Noah and the guys from Zeus Jones have written this and this respectively about how digital habits are manifesting themselves in traditional forms of media consumption/behaviour, which is an interesting concept in itself. Although not related to digital, John Mcure of Reverend and the Makers fame also wrote this in the Guardian that touches on people doing sod all politically. I particularly like this paragraph.

“Yet a deafening silence prevails, save for on soft issues that don't require our leaders to remove the splinters of middle England's fences from their derrieres. Bono talking hungry Africans is a safe issue. He's a man they're happy to do business with, borrow some cool from. Everyone agrees we should act. Comic Relief, Sport Aid? No brainers. A far cry from the counterculture radicals who so affected our broad thinking during the late 60s or even during the punk era.”

So praise be to god my dying belief in mankind was saved when I went to my first APG event in Sydney and Sam McLean from the not for profit Getup.org.au gave us a presentation on how they use digital to mobilise people around specific issues such as the environment or the price of fuel for example.

Now I think Getup is awesome and it is genuinely more than just an online petition site, which lets face it is the most lazy form of activism. It has 280,000 members. People create content for their campaigns for free and people donate money to pay for the media spend and launch it as a TV ad. They even organise ‘Getogethers’ across Australia that do influence policies at varying levels. Getup are a great example of how digital can be used cost effectively to create grassroots interests and participation, but more importantly how they turn that interest into something potent by using ‘old media’.

If you haven’t seen it yet, Getup is responsible for the following movie. And if you want to donate towards the media spend you can do it here.

Now I’m sort of going off course a bit but I will maintain the ramble. The rub for me on this is ‘what does this essentially mean for brands?’ I often hear it said, particularly in the alcohol market, that their respective audiences aren’t online. Which isn’t true, but what is true is why should someone bother to gather, ‘online or offline’, anywhere other than a pub for a bottle of lager? And that is where digital agencies are failing. Why would any self respecting lager drinker bother to jump through these hoops just win a fridge or hear about all of their exciting news via email? Do they really care enough to do what is being asked of them?

This to me is the part that clients want us to answer and is imperative if digital agencies are to play a greater role from a brand leadership perspective. Rather than throwing stats at them that say 21 – 35 year olds lager drinkers now consume x amount of Internet hours compared to TV, therefore we must do something in digital. We must be showing them how we can use digital in a way that is relevant for people’s relationship with that specific brand. How can we snap them out of this lethargy and create communications that are more than just forwarding an email on to a friend, entering a competition or signing up to a petition against global warming? How can we mobilise the masses and not just those who are motivated enough to play with the latest communication just because it's cool and innovative? Perhaps there is a market for a digital, come experiential, come PR agency?


Gavin Heaton said...

Good rant, Carl! The insight is true ... the lager drinking audience are online. It makes sense to activate the brand online. The problem is, is that this insight is likely to originate with a non-digital agency or planning team.

For me, the important correlation is between the audience and their likely level of adoption and conversion. Simply because this audience is used to engaging online makes digital strategy imperative -- after all, this is fundamental to the Getup approach. But you are right, it needs to go further. There needs to be an impact. It needs to be about linking emotionally to an outcome -- a win-win for the brand, the business and the audience.

Until digital planners/agencies understand this, they will be relegated to tactical execution and mechanics.

Carl said...

Cheers Gavin thanks for stopping by. I think we briefly met a couple of weeks ago at the coffee morning. I will try and get myself down there again soon.