Digital vs. direct smackdown ends in draw

It was billed as the digital-vs.-direct generational smackdown of Digital Marketing Days, but the face-off between direct veteran Stan Rapp and digital “serial entrepreneur” Dan Zawadzki ended in a draw. Even if Rapp — who noted the word digital comes from “digits” or fingers — told Zawadzki “don’t give the finger” to direct marketing, both sides found more to agree about than disagree.

All marketing is direct marketing now, said Rapp. He noted that companies including Levi’s, Nike and Procter & Gamble are all selling directly to consumers on the internet now. Digital media are just tools to communicate with consumers, said Rapp, the founder of Rapp Collins Worldwide and now CEO of Engauge.

While he defended digital media as more relevant than just campaign tools, Zawadzki CEO of MediaMath, agreed that the division between digital and direct is becoming more a matter of semantics than a reality. The lines between both are blurring as more marketers use multichannel communications, he said.

Despite the best efforts of moderator Tim Suther, the two sides found common ground, talking about how measuring and targeting are just as important on both direct and digital marketing, even while disagreeing about how effective social media really are in driving sales. Suther, senior VP of multichannel marketing services at Acxiom, even tried to draw in the other two panelists — Lawrence DiCapua, director of interative marketing/CRM at Pepsi North America Beverages, and Caribou Honig, partner in QED Investors — but they generally agreed there is no beef between digital and direct.

With a tip of the hat to Apple Corp., Rapp suggested that maybe direct marketing needs a rebranding. Perhaps it should change its name to iDirect, he said. And not just to show is is interactive and cool, he said, but can also be “informed, immediate, integrated, informative and all those ‘i’ words.”

Many marketers erroneously still think of direct marketing as synonymous with direct mail, said Rapp.

“I believe direct (marketing) is evolving. If it doesn’t reflect that in its name, it’s not going to get taken seriously,”.he said after the non-throwdown. “It’s a branding exercise — absolutely,”

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