The Two Misunderstood Buzzwords of Advertising – Digital vs. Interactive

Published: 04th June 2010
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If you are an avid reader of ad agency blogs, you may notice two buzzwords that are consistently misused - digital and interactive. Unfortunately, many marketing agencies incorrectly swap these words to fit the latest trend in the advertising world.

If you can think back to a time before the Internet was part of our world, you will remember that the word "digital" was already widely in use. Before Internet marketing agencies hijacked the word, it most often referred to displays set in whole numbers using integers. The opposite of "digital" is not "print" or "television," but the correct antonym is "analog." Analog is information shown in a gradual scaled nature. Think about the wall clocks that hung in your grade school classrooms, thermometers mounted outside a window or a scale suspended over the bananas in your supermarket's produce department. These are examples of analog devices which move a needle or arm gradually along markings to indicate a value. It is not less accurate than a digital display. Digital is just easier to read. It has a fixed level of accuracy and then displays it in whole numbers or a decimal representation. A digital bathroom scale can show a half-pound increase by indicating "148.5," whereas its analog counterpart's pointer simply swings to a point between the 148 and 149 markings. Digital can actually be considered less accurate because it assumes a level of accuracy and omits any gray area between the smallest increments. Have you ever observed an audiophile lamenting the lost character of old vinyl record albums? To ignore that extra information between the lines can be accused of being lazy.

Now, let's move on to the word "interactive." Juxtapose this word with its antonym, "static." Any object, some collection of information or even an advertising campaign can be either interactive or static; the difference is in the user's experience. An effective interactive agency understands that it must cause each client's prospective customers to experience the marketing message as deeply as possible. The target audience should not just drive by a billboard or stare passively while watching television; they must dig-in... grab on and actively participate in the advertising experience.

Digital technology is opening up many new avenues for us to experience and create interactive marketing. This is most likely the cause for confusion. Interactive experiences predate the World Wide Web. A trip to Disneyland or a petting zoo is interactive. When food court workers try to entice you with bite-sized samples on a toothpick, you are experiencing interactive marketing. You are participating on a more active level than if you were looking at a photograph of the Magic Kingdom, reading a story about a child raising a goat or even watching a tempting commercial for a tasty morsel of seasoned chicken. The World Wide Web gave us other ways to invite this participation. Social media, online multi-player games, augmented reality, blogs with comments, immersive Flash-based movie websites and many other possibilities, are constantly being leveraged to draw visitors into a marketing message. B2C and ever increasingly B2B Internet marketing keep pushing this trend. New interactive marketing is constantly being developed to help guide our prospective customers to empathize with pain points and gain deeper understanding of our clients' technology and their respective advantages. We are proving daily that marketing is more effective which leverages our personal interactions and attaches to the expanded horizons of our customers' real-life experience. Just don't forget that it is not limited to a digital delivery.

The next time you are asked to participate in a "digital" or "interactive" advertising campaign - be it B2B Internet marketing, a survey or some other form of advertising - take a moment to consider whether it really is interactive or maybe only digital. Is the campaign encouraging audience participation? Is it a static message presented via digital media? Did you experience the marketing campaign on a higher level, or were you simply a passive observer? Whether your client's customers are businesses or individuals, clarifying the true difference between digital and truly interactive marketing will breathe life into your marketing messages and engage customers as never before!

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