My Age of Disillusionment

I am doing a stint as Editor for APG UK (kinda proud and gloaty about it too) this September, and my topic is digital transformation. You will see I am quite apologetic about it but adamant that it needs to be done and that we are doing it wrongly.

Here’s why: for a very long time ideas were given simpler canvases to express themselves. However restrictive, 30 second spots in 2 minute ad breaks on TVs that worked largely the same were not impossible. Half pages in paper journals with similar printing technologies, meh, same. The idea reigned supreme. There were only this many ways to hack the medium, and we heard stories about this brand having its ad run at exactly the same time on all networks, or this brand running an ad at the beginning of the break that was just noise to freak people out. Papers were even harder to really hack. Nobody, as far as I know, ever thought to have a newspaper run with cut outs where the ads should be. Medium was hackable but not too much.

The digital age, however, brings about the possibility of medium hacking as primary creative solution. No idea required. Stitch some images together and a swiping action will create the illusion of something. It’s hacking the medium, it gets a rise out of people. It’s not an idea.

And here’s where my disillusionment starts. I am a planner and I know that’s not an idea. And I want to get the hacking done with so we can focus on the idea. But because it’s taking us so long to do the hacking, we’re building a mystique of the medium. Canvas, Stories, Filters, Moments, Pins, Unskippable Skippables, media fragmentation is generating so many new things we can focus our attention on that if we wanted to, we could spin a web to keep us busy for all eternity.

Digital was supposed to be a try-fail-improve type of space. See something new, give it a try, measure it, learn from that and make it better. How many of us are really doing that? How many of us get the format stuff out of the way so we can focus on the idea and the problem? Not that many judging by the convincing that platforms have to do and the rate of update of new formats. If cracking a format takes guidelines and a command chain, we’re doing digital wrong. If we cannot face a modicum of failure, of lack of perfection, we’re not digitally transformed. What we are doing is the same with the word digital in front. No transformation.

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