Has Marketing Gone Too Digital?

The marketing industry has been focused — and somewhat obsessed — with digital for the better part of the last decade. The result is a massive shift in resources and investments toward digital marketing. For instance, total digital media spend increased from $16.9 billion and 6% of total media investment in 2007 to $83 billion and 36.7% in total media investment in 2016, according to eMarketer.

But this shift has been more than a reallocation of media investments away from “traditional” channels like TV, print and radio. There has been a digitization of media channels and media consumption behavior. Television ad space can now be purchased and delivered programmatically. Out-of-home (OOH) has gone digital. Print content has moved online.

Consumer media consumption behavior has also significantly shifted from traditional to digital platforms. Long-form video content consumption has shifted from broadcast and cable TV to streaming platforms. Terrestrial radio listenership has shifted to streaming audio platforms like Pandora and Spotify. This justifies most — if not all — of the shift in media dollars online.



The shift to digital has been more profound than media. There has been a sea change in marketing strategies from top-of-funnel broad reach to bottom-funnel targeted marketing. This has been facilitated by the massive amounts of data digital technology has made available to marketers. Starting with “big data,” this shift towards personalization has been buoyed by the introduction of machine learning and artificial intelligence and the proliferation of CRM technology.

However, as with so many disruptions that occur in industry and society, the shift to digital has potentially gone too far. In my experience, many marketers are completely eschewing traditional marketing and any focus on awareness generation with a whole-hearted faith and focus on digital marketing and technology. This overcorrection has negatively impacted marketing effectiveness. 

The reality is that digital may not be the solution to all marketers’ problems. Too much digital may hurt marketing effectiveness. A couple of key reasons include:

  • Digital media generally lacks the breakthrough abilities of numerous traditional media channels like TV and experiential.
  • Getting the attention of users, particularly at the top of the funnel, is significantly more difficult online than in the analog world.
  • There are early indications that the youngest consumers — Gen Z — are shunning digital for physical experiences.

Some types of analog or traditional media have become more powerful in this new digital world. It is common for marketers to view “attention” as the central currency of modern marketing. That is because people are inundated with communications. The average consumer is exposed to 10,000 brand messages a day. Moreover, as media consumption has shifted to non-ad supported platforms (e.g. Netflix), media consumption has increasingly been time-shifted (using DVRs).

As ad-blocking software use grows, it’s becoming harder and harder to “interrupt” and get people’s attention, particularly online. The irony is that while digital media provides unparalleled targeting capabilities, it is failing to get the user’s attention as well-chronicled by the “banner blindness” and the eight-second attention span, Microsoft found in 2015.

While a shift to earned media and owned content marketing and creating valuable, opt-in experiences is part of the solution to the issues above, many of the paid media options available to marketers are increasingly ineffectual. Except, I would argue, many offline formats. That is why Super Bowl TV ad rates (and any advertising on live sports) has increased in cost and value and why OOH media has moved up the paid media food chain and is demanding record CPMs. Maybe it’s time for marketers to reprioritize traditional media.

8 comments about "Has Marketing Gone Too Digital?".
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  1. Michael Hubbard from Media Two Interactive, March 22, 2018 at 2:54 p.m.

    I respectfully disagree...  As you stated yourself, the audience has changed the medium they prefer.  Despite the fact it's still a newspaper article, they're reading it on an ipad rather than a dead tree - so there is no other option but to move budgets to where the eyeballs are.  So to me, 36.7% of media spend is not enough if 70%+ is being consumed there.

    While you state 3 reasons digital isn't for everyone - I think they might be 3 reasons that might apply to unique circumstances, but should not be used as a blanket statement.  If you truly believe digital can't provide breakthrough moments, or can't reach top of funnel prospects for example, then I could probably write an entire book on disagreements.  So yes, a solid marketing mix is always best and you shouldn't just throw money at digital b/c it's the shiny object - but I still feel it's under utilized and provides much more upside when you start to factor in pricing as well.

  2. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, March 22, 2018 at 4:17 p.m.

    Michael, where did you get the idea that digital accounts for 70% of the time consumers spend with ad media? You should subscribe to our annual--"Intermedia Dimensions 2018" ---where you will find that the actual percentage is, in fact, about 35-37%. Of course, we are counting print media as well as radio---they still exist----and even more problematic is the ability of a digital ad to get on a user's screen long enough to have some impact.

    OK, maybe you were thinking only about TV. Fair enough. But, once again, your 70% figure is way off. If we discount all other media but "TV" and digital video----in order to make a fair comparison for advertisers who only use TV commercials to get their message across---then TV wins by about a 10-1 ratio in time spent.

    One more point. Smart advertisers don't simply "follow the eyeballs" as you put it. There are many considerations in determining media selection--- and the media mix--- over and above how much time people devote to each medium. Just take a look at magazine. Even with their recent troubles, they garner a much higher percentage of ad dollars than one would surmise based on the puny amout of daily time---a few minutes---- that consumers devote to the magazine medium---and they deserve those dollars.

  3. John Grono from GAP Research, March 22, 2018 at 9:39 p.m.

    Curse you Ed, for ruining Michael's comment with facts.

  4. Michael Hubbard from Media Two Interactive, March 23, 2018 at 8:05 a.m.

    the word IF apparently should have been bolded, capitalized or emphasized for point of example.  If the percentage was 40%, I'd expect 40% of media.  If 50%, then 50%, etc, etc..   The tiny word IF should have been bigger, but overall it's an observation.   My disagreement is with the assertion as a whole that digital is being over-bought, as I don't believe that the 36.7% is enough.  Every client and every marketers media mix is going to dictate how much should be where, but as a general observation - if his article stated that 90% (IF) of media consumed was consumed online - then, yes, 36.7% is way too small.  

    That said, I'd be very interested in reading your research, as I haven't seen stats in a long time that say people read newspapers, magazines or watch TV more per day than they are online.  I see you put the word "ad media" in there though - so maybe that's the distinction your referencing over general consumption like I am...   If willing to send to me, my email is

  5. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, March 23, 2018 at 9:25 a.m.

    Michael, we don't send out free copies of our reports however if you are interested in my point about TV vs. digital video time spent comparisons Nielsen covers this in its "Comparable Metrics" reports which are published on its website. What you will see in these meterized findings from a respected national panel, is that digital video usage---as opposed to all usage----is dwarfed by TV viewing for all segments of the population reported---even millennials where the gap is smallest---in terms of time spent. Part of this is a function of the length of the content. A typical TV show is about one hour long while a typical digital video is far, for shorter.

  6. Brian Durocher from GTB replied, March 26, 2018 at 9:02 a.m.

    Except people still spend 3 times more time with Traditional television than any digital channel and in fact all digital combined

  7. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, March 26, 2018 at 9:33 a.m.

    Traditional branding advertisers haven't rushed into digital media as is inferred by misunderstanding the "ad revenue" stats. In fact, digital media for branding ads---where the primary and, in many cases, the only purpose is to promote the brand, but not necessariyl for a direct response-----trails well behind TV in ad spending and is only now equal to radio. Subscribers to "Intermedia Dimensions 2018" well soon be receiving one of our many new "Aterts" showing our latest take on this.

  8. Les Sinclair from Cville Radio Group, April 1, 2018 at 12:53 a.m.

    Broadcasting your message is still the best way to get exposure. It’s not true that listening has shifted to on line platforms. As a journalist you’ve got to get your facts right. 93% of Americans tune in every week. 93%!!! Check with Nielsen. As a journalist if you’re cherrypicking your facts your entire article loses credibility. 

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