This is a really unfair post. Razorfish just published their 2010 Outlook Report. I think it’s a disappointment and I’m going to tell you why. So why is that unfair? Because they took the time and energy to write it and I didn’t. Instead I’m going to sit on the sidelines and carp.
So first off some deserved props. Razorfish should be applauded for publishing the report each year. It’s always a well-written, nicely art directed piece, and comprehensive as these things go. It’s also become a bit of an ‘event’ in the space. Presumably their clients like it too – it’s nice to know your agency is a widely acknowledged thought-leader in the digital space. And….that’s it.
OK, so what’s wrong with it? Here goes
1: Terrible design and choice of technology platform. Razorfish is supposed to be on the leading edge. And this is a forward-looking document (it says so on Page 2). But what they serve up is a print magazine. Online.
Crappy navigation, no social integration (other than ‘Tweet This’ – meaning the whole thing), no comments, no discussion, no community…no wonder clients only spend 4% of budgets on social (according to the report) if this is the best a leading-edge agency can come up with. You can’t even cut and paste. And forget trying to share individual articles. No multimedia, no video, no audio. Just text and images. At least there are no ads…
2: Relentless focus on display advertising. The first 40 pages of the report are an homage to old–style command and control Mad Men thinking. We learn about the strength of digital based purely on the amount of media dollars ‘invested’ in the medium, and new technologies allowing advertisers to ‘target’ ‘consumers’ more effectively, buy and sell media more efficiently, advertise on Twitter, spend more money on Yahoo. Hey guys, this is 2010. Do you know that 95% of people don’t trust advertising? This is why.
3: Too cautious: The word ‘Evolve’ appears on the front cover of the report – yes it has a front cover, it’s a magazine after all. Iteration is a theme throughout the piece. Iterative development practices (no problem with that), iterative creative (think small, no more ‘big ideas’ – although that idea itself is somewhat undermined by using the Coors Light ‘Cold’ campaign as an example. Uh, that’s not a big idea?)
The report calls on clients to experiment in emerging channels (case study: Motor Trend iPhone app. Dudes, even Ogilvy does iPhone apps – what’s so emerging about that?) Has digital really matured to the point that all the innovation has already happened? Wow, I hope not.
4: Incomprehensible digispeak. This is interesting. The further you get into the report, the less understandable the prose is. My hypothesis is that’s because the media stuff comes up front and that’s where Razorfish feels most comfortable and employs the smartest people. They’re burying the other stuff at the back. I wanted to cut and paste a section from an article on something to do with The Defragged Consumer (ahem) to illustrate my point but it wouldn’t let me. But feel free to go to Page 90 and see for yourself. Anyone who can explain to me what on earth they’re talking about wins a personal defragging from the Razorfish team.
5: Where’s the vision? Intelligent people can have a good faith debate about what constitutes digital strategy, or even digital marketing strategy. I’ll give you my version:
Develop a deep understanding of how people use the web to research, compare, validate and buy products and services – and use the insights gained to help them get things done better, on their terms.
I don’t know what Razorfish’s vision is, but it certainly isn’t that. Only once in the entire 100+ pages of the report does the term User Experience Design warrant a mention. Content Strategy also gets one call-out, while content itself – its creation, management, optimization and governance – is not discussed at all.
The report has useful nuggets, especially for those working in media. But overall it’s a disappointment. Why does that matter? Because Razorfish is a highly respected leader in the field. You only have to take a look at the buzz the report’s generating on Twitter to realize how seriously it’s taken as both a barometer and a statement of where digital’s headed next. I think digital marketing is in a rut. On this evidence Razorfish isn’t helping dig it out.