Digital technology has revolutionised the media sector, changing the way brands speak. But has it altered what they say? Suzanne Kemble talks to Ogilvy & Mather’s Rory Sutherland about how the risks and rewards have changed.

If you can remember the car Papa and Nicole sped around a French village in, or the book JR Hartley was searching for, then you’ll have witnessed first-hand the transformation in the media sector. Methods of advertising that didn’t exist 20 years ago – YouTube, Twitter and Facebook – have become indispensable touch points for brands and consumers. It’s forecast that nearly £8 billion will be spent on digital advertising in the UK in 2015, half of all ad spend.

It used to be that the TV advert was everything, but now campaigns have become more broad-ranging, with a bigger focus on digital and social media. As prime TV slots command ever higher premiums, new media allows companies to reach people when they are most receptive.

For online retailers, the ability to communicate easily and inexpensively with their target demographic has been revolutionary. But it’s not just niche brands that are benefiting from digital innovation.

One screen isn’t enough anymore. Now, brands want their advertisements to be encountered over two or three platforms simultaneously. You may see a campaign on social media before you watch it on TV.

While social media and email marketing allow companies to stay connected with an existing customer base, Google’s search engine helps them to capture  a whole new audience. ‘As David Ogilvy famously said, “You aren’t advertising to a standing army; you are advertising to a moving parade”, says Rory Sutherland, Vice-Chairman of Ogilvy & Mather UK.

Sutherland believes Google Search will always be a key investment as brands can catch people at the moment of interest. ‘Plus, it’s easier to prove the efficacy of spend in search than in TV,’ he says.

Keeping on track

Digital analytics can be an advertising agency’s best friend, but if a campaign doesn’t perform, the agency has nowhere to hide. The majority of claims we encounter at Hiscox fall under negligence and breach of contract. Claims have arisen where clients expected to see their website rank at the top of Google’s search results and it didn’t, or didn’t attract the traffic they were expecting.

When issues arise, it’s up to Hiscox to rectify the situation. People think the only trigger for an insurance claim is formal litigation, but that isn’t the case. Most of what we settle is out of court, and we can often ensure the client-agency relationship is maintained.

Read: How to manage risk in marketing, advertising and communications – the ultimate guide

Despite the increase in digital spending, agencies still direct a large portion of their budgets into conventional communications. In 2015, spending on TV advertising is expected to be £3.8 billion, and globally it accounts for 39% of advertising investment. Print has held on to 16% of total ad expenditure in the UK.

‘Mass marketing is still a critical component of brand building,’ says Sutherland. ‘That a company is willing to invest a lot of money directing attention towards a product in many ways proves its worth. It’s a theory called “costly signalling”, and it’s the reason why conventional, mass-exposure campaigns still work.’

While many predicted the demise of the ad man in the world of digital media, in truth, responsible stewardship of these emerging channels has never been in greater demand. Technology drives the pace of change, but the publishing laws governing these platforms haven’t moved on in 20 years. Without the right knowledge, brands can find themselves in hot water.

‘The role of advertising won’t disappear because a less expensive, more notionally efficient way to communicate came along,’ says Sutherland, ‘but it will need to redefine itself.’

Read: Has PR the stomach to steal a slice of the digital marketing pie? / The Sarah Hall column

As advertisers adopt digital and experiential marketing, we look at how three major brands have embraced new media over the past 20 years.

Coca-Cola: Christmas trucks (1995)
When the Coca-Cola Christmas trucks were created by ad agency WB Doner for a new seasonal advertising campaign in the run-up to Christmas 1995, little did we know how significant a tradition they would become.

Coca Cola: Personalised bottles (2013/14)
As part of its ‘Share a Coke’ campaign, Coca-Cola swapped the famous logo on each of its bottles for one of the UK’s 250 most popular names – a number that grew to more than 1,000 in 2014, with over 730,000 glass bottles personalised via the Coca-Cola online store.

McDonald’s: I’m Lovin’ It (2003)
By reinventing ‘I’m Lovin’ It’ into a catchy TV advert jingle, McDonald’s cleverly associated its brand with two of America’s most popular musicians – Pharrell Williams and Justin Timberlake.

McDonald’s: Angry Birds (2012)
In China, McDonald’s offered location-based Angry Birds games for mobile phones, which were only accessible while inside its restaurants and featured the new elements of a burger, French fries and a drink.

Dove: Campaign For Real Beauty (2004)
Dove cast real women of all shapes, sizes and races to star in this groundbreaking billboard campaign, which heralded a wave of female empowerment advertisements.

Dove: Real Beauty Sketches (2013)
Uploaded in 25 languages to 33 of the brand’s YouTube channels, the video generated more than 114 million views within a month, and showed how women can be overly critical of their appearance.

To find out about our specialist media insurance visit the Hiscox Professional Indemnity page

For more from this series visit our Media in Focus hub