The move to digital. It was a paradigm shift intended to bring about more effective and informed ad campaigns, delivered in innovative ways. A straightforward goal, in theory. But the reality? Instead of this imagined promise, the shift online has led to customers being inundated with intrusive and irrelevant ads, which begs the question — what went wrong with digital marketing?

On a mission to answer precisely that, I assembled some of the best minds in marketing for a discussion on the current problems faced by the industry and how digital marketers can work together to fix them. Meeting in London’s ad central – Shoreditch – the group included author and “Ad Contrarian” Bob Hoffman, Ogilvy advertising guru Rory Sutherland, cynical futurist Theo Priestley and other big brains of the marketing world.

After several hours of discussion and debate, the consensus was strikingly clear — digital marketing has lost its way, particularly in terms of ethics and effectiveness. Whether that’s down to poor targeting, an obsessive desire to hoard data, or just an overall lack of strategy, we decided something needed to be done. The result? A new manifesto for digital marketing was born.

Signed by the biggest names in marketing and open to agencies and marketers, the new manifesto sets out a list of principles for more ethical and effective targeting:

Don’t be greedy with data

Over the last twenty years, marketers have developed a reputation for being data hungry, and no doubt the transition to a digital economy has fuelled this. While data plays a crucial role in empowering marketers with insights on target audiences, it appears that as an industry we’ve become far too obsessed with data — to the detriment of strategy altogether.

Rather than hoarding every bit of data possible, marketers must remember to prioritise a thoughtful strategy and vow to only use the data that is strictly relevant to what customers are trying to buy.

Scrap outdated stereotypes

Making generalisations about your audience is possibly one of the worst things you can do as a marketer. Yet so many are still making use of demographic segmentations that incorporate stereotypes and therefore don’t accurately reflect people’s interests or lives.

Instead, marketers should prioritise data that is reflective of what their audiences do — that is, data that speaks to what people choose to spend their money on. This should be what digital platforms are best at, with brands like Facebook and TikTok already offering ‘purchase behaviour targeting’ as standard tools. Despite this, thousands of marketers still opt for lazy and potentially harmful ‘demographic’ targeting (read ‘stereotyping’).

Ditch the meaningless metrics

Digital technologies were supposed to make campaign results more transparent. In truth, businesses are overwhelmed with meaningless metrics that fail to provide insight on the most important information such as the bottom line.

Research shows that 55% of CEOs consider most digital marketing metrics to be literally “meaningless”. It seems obvious, but if digital marketers are ever going to be taken seriously, we need to communicate in clear, tangible objectives tied to business value.

Quality, not quantity

While the move online was filled with the promise of more effective and creative ads, it appears the marketers of today have forgotten this aim almost entirely, in favour of a cookier cutter approach to digital ads. As Rory Sutherland describes it: “There is brilliant, brilliant work done in creative digital marketing of the Cannes-winning big programme kind, but the day-to-day stuff I see hasn’t seen a copywriter.”

Marketers need to approach digital ads with the same creativity and storytelling expected in traditional marketing. Rather than mass producing uninspired ads, marketers should run fewer ads with more creative tact and better targeting in mind.

Stop spying

Today’s consumers are becoming increasingly concerned with their privacy, and this is no surprise when you consider the undeniably invasive approach of marketers. In fact, marketers’ growing obsession with consumer data is highlighted by Bob Hoffman, who cited a study suggesting that ad tech companies possess 72 million datapoints on the average child before they reach the age of 13.

If marketers continue to ignore customer privacy, it will result in serious damage to both brand reputations and bottom lines. Marketers must ensure they use technology that strictly relies on fully anonymized data and clear first-party consent.

A problem shared, is a problem halved

While digital marketing is admittedly broken, the good news is that it’s not yet passed the point of no return. In other words, if marketers acknowledge the problems they’re currently facing now, instead of burying their heads in the sand, together we can fix it.

By addressing the issues outlined in this new manifesto and committing to more ethical and effective strategies, digital marketers can begin to overhaul the industry and gain back the trust of consumers.

There is power in digital marketing, there is value in digital marketing, and there is a great consumer experience that can be delivered. Let’s re-make online marketing, starting now.

Anil Malhotra, CMO and Founder, Bango
CMO and Founder at Bango | + posts

As Bango's CMO, I advocate for the adoption of innovative technology by merchants to link marketing investment directly to revenue.

I've enjoyed success through pushing boundaries in technology, for instance, commercializing the first artificial life video game, making X.desktop a global standard, and mainstreaming alternative online payments.

Beyond work, I'm passionate about nurturing innovation and challenging dogmatism across various spheres.