Arif Durrani: Embracing digital as standard

Arif Durrani is editor / group news editor of Brand Republic
Arif Durrani is editor / group news editor of Brand Republic

Ahead of IAB Engage 2012 tomorrow, and what promises to be another timely digital romp, I've been asked to share my thoughts on the evolving world of internet advertising.

Those of us working in digital, and surely that’s now everyone, find ourselves at an interesting point in proceedings. No longer the embarrassing cousins in the backroom, the fight for credibility has turned into the more familiar age-old battle for revenues and marketshare.

When the likes of Condé Nast’s Queen of print, Vogue, sits its digital team next to its monthly print operation, as it did at the start of the summer, you know change is truly in the air. And of course, it needs to be.

Talking to executives at Mail Online after the world’s largest newspaper site became profitable for the first time in July, it soon became apparent its future model is one based on packaging relevant, bespoke advertising opportunities around specific categories of content: for traditional magazine publishers this should all sound very familiar.

It’s still early days for brand marketers online, but it’s easy to forget how far we’ve come already. Ipsos research into the youth market recently made me pause for thought. It noted how people turning 16 in 2012 were born in the same year Take That split; when people still talked about the World Wide Web without a hint of sarcasm; and when the biggest search engine was AOL.

Digital natives have grown with the internet, where content is currency and lives are planned via social media. The very idea of ‘going online’ to them is already becoming something of an anachronism; they live in a seamless world where online and offline are often no longer defined.

At best, many already find standard digital ads ineffective, at worst, intrusive, poorly targeted and crude. The challenge for brands and agencies is to maintain the pace of innovation and focus on creating high-impact content they will want to engage with. If they can share it or trade it in for something, then all the better.

A leader in e-commerce

The pace of change is clearly apparent in the UK’s adoption of e-commerce too. I remember friends toiling away in salubrious Archway for the ambitious online retailer, BuyMe100, before the dotcom collapse. It, and the many retail sites swept away like it, were ahead of themselves.

We’ve all been around the block a few times since then, but the UK now makes a strong case for being one of the most advanced digital marketing and e-commerce nations on earth. It’s not happened by accident. It's been almost four years since Lord Carter's Digital Britain report, but while 'broadband for all by 2012' remains a stretch, developments in tech and 4G are well beyond expectations.     

In just 10 years, online has blossomed from a 1% medium to command more than 30% of total media spend, the largest of any media. Of course any "fight" for share against traditional media has always been a misnomer; traditional media owners have all played their part in building an online ecosystem where UK consumers spend more per head than any other G20 country.

From Silicon Valley to Shoreditch

No great surprise then that Facebook, looking to assure investors it is ready to embrace both a commercial and mobile future, is about to make significant investment in its UK operations, including its first managing director and another EMEA leader.

Facebook UK represents the social network giant’s most significant operation outside the US, and is among the pioneering companies starting to reap the rewards of an overarching vision for customers in the digital space.

There is a virtuous circle of sorts in Facebook’s EMEA leader, Joanna Shields, previously of AOL, being named as the chief executive of David Cameron’s Tech City this week. In a much celebrated move, from the beginning of 2013, she will be focused on boosting the UK's digital credentials.

Shields believes there is "no reason why we can't make London the number one location for tech in the world". As she rightly points out, the seeds have already been sown in East London and we now have the infrastructure, the technology and the talent. Let’s all hope growth can follow.

Full details of the IAB Engage 2012 programme here. Brand Republic, media partner of the conference, will be reporting on the event throughout the day.


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