The Mad Men syndrome: the real digital innovators

RamKrishna Raja, Digital managing director at IPG Mediabrands, looks at what the real digital innovators are doing while the rest of us worry about being cool or informative in the realms of social media.

I have it. But ever since the time the guys over at Cupertino gave us the iPhone, I have been forced to question pretty much every prevailing Mad Men wisdom that has been ruling the roost when it comes to digital or for that matter all marketing.

Viral videos are flash in the pans and not campaigns….baloney! Tell that to Old spice. SMS is too short a medium to meaningfully communicate with audiences. BS. Tell that to Twitter. Driving mobile engagement is hard. Bigger BS…just say that to the guys at Instagram, Path, Flipboard and Zite. You can go on and on.

We in the Digital business are always behind the curve when it comes to what is actually going on in the world of Tech. Yet, we are the first to sensationalise our use of tech and present an ‘oh-so-cool’ Mad Men-like aura for coming up with campaigns that barely have business relevance let alone engagement.  Don’t get me wrong; I am not trying to take the high road nor am I bashing anyone here. I am very much a part of this circus and I ail with the same symptoms. Not a sexy first impression of myself by any means I presume. But nevertheless, I am glad to say hello with an honest note.

Given that this is my first opinion post here, I was pondering last week on what is ‘cool’ and  ‘informative’ abour ‘social’ or ‘mobile’ that I can write about, that will make an ‘impact’ and ‘engage’ my ‘audience’. Then I read about Instagram’s Austin Powers-esque sale to Facebook and I stopped. I had a clear ‘stop telling’ and ‘start learning’ moment/epiphany or whatever you want to call it.

We are in the digital engagement business. Period. Every penny spent in our digital marketing ecosystem is singularly focused on driving this. We earn a living working hard to come up with the next big digital idea that makes brilliant brand engagement happen.  But the truth is, as folks in the ideas industry, we are yet to come up with a billion dollar digital engagement that in and of itself drives a brand’s engagement up consistently over a reasonable period of time.

We are yet to realise that 3.5s, 4.3s, 9.7s are the most important numbers in driving engagement and yet we are still focused on the good old 13s and 15s. And if you do not know what those numbers stand for…then boy… aren’t you in trouble?

The rules of our trade are being rewritten every time there is a new app, meme or game that gets millions excited for reasons unbeknown to us while we arduously work on driving digital engagement and ROI. Someone just made a billion dollars yesterday while we will hear one of us sermonising tomorrow to a client that social and mobile is the future.

Instead of us analysing whether Facebook’s buying Instagram is a good thing or whether Facebook will lose its cool or not among our audiences, it would be most helpful for us if we start focusing on creating the next Instagram for our clients. I don’t know whether I can do it, but I sure as hell know we have brilliant minds amongst us and that great digital engagement platforms are not the sole domain of tech startups. We can and must embrace what the tech world is teaching us… in driving innovation, engagement and execution. Fact is, the real mad men are making the next billion dollar app. What are we doing?

So, it is with utmost humility that I begin my contribution here. To share only what I learn and to never tell. I am just glad that I am part of a company that puts so much emphasis on learning what people are actually doing, so hopefully, I will be able to pique your interest in sharing what I learn doing what I do.

This piece was first published on Campaign Asia-Pacific.