Dare Vancouver and the Sea Change in Advertising

It's 2010, says Dare SVP Sandy Fleischer, and the writing's on the wall. No advertising agency can exist today without digital skills. On November 18 – and right here in Vancouver – we launched the first major North American operations of the U.K.-based advertising agency Dare.

dare vancouver digital advertising

It’s 2010, says Dare SVP Sandy Fleischer, and the writing’s on the wall. No advertising agency can exist today without digital skills.

On November 18 – and right here in Vancouver – we launched the first major North American operations of the U.K.-based advertising agency Dare.

The big deal is that the move was made by merging agencies already at the top of their game: in the U.K., Dare Digital and sister agency MCBD; and in Canada, much of Cossette West including the group of digital experts that led Fjord West.

If business was so good, why the big change?

Like the music, movie, news and countless other industries, the advertising world has been upended by the digital revolution.
For over a century, the advertising model has been based on one-way mass communication to consumers via newspaper, then radio, then television. With the advent of each new channel, advertising agencies made sure to adapt along the way.
Then Al Gore invented the Internet.
This time, agencies were slow to react. Many dismissed or ignored the web as a venue for brand-building. Agencies with foresight created new interactive divisions that were kept siloed and lower in the food chain than traditional agencies. The work done by digital agencies was typically relegated to digital extensions of TV campaigns. (I remember when it wasn’t unusual for the catering budget from the TV shoot to eclipse that of the entire digital campaign.)
Meanwhile, over the last decade, as dollars have shifted to digital marketing, a new breed of digital “pure play” agencies has evolved. Experts in producing digital media (websites, Flash-based tools, CD-ROMs, etc.) were typically hired by traditional agencies who did not have those capabilities in house. The traditional agencies still managed the client relationship, and conducted all the strategic thinking that led to the consumer insights the campaigns were based on.

The digital paradigm shift

Now, in 2010, brought home by the rise of social media, the digital writing is on the wall. There is no way an agency can exist without having core digital skills.
One direct result has been the “great race” for relevance. Traditional agencies have tried to graft digital skills onto their organizations – in the most misguided cases, by hiring a lone “digital guy” who gets carted into meetings to represent new media. It’s obvious by now that takes more than a single person – or several people – for a traditional agency to “get” digital.
Why? Because digital is more than just another channel; it’s a paradigm shift in marketing and brand-building that’s remaking consumers’ relationship with brands, online and off. Traditional agencies are, admittedly, in a tough spot. They won’t be able to get to the centre of the “great race” without altering their DNA – and this isn’t something done overnight.
Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum, digital agencies are racing toward the hallowed middle ground. They’ve added client services and planning to their core offer, but the road ahead will be bumpy. At their heart, they are production shops, and changing that culture will take time. They also must overcome the industry preconception that digital shops can’t lead communications engagements and must be subservient to traditional shops. This stigma will fade, but it will take time.

Enter Dare Vancouver

We believe that the sweet spot, where digital and traditional co-exist, is where Dare is today. We regard this as an evolution, not a revolution: Cossette’s traditional agency and Fjord, its digital group, have worked together in the same building, sharing clients and employees for over 10 years. And we took things as far as we could under that old structure.
So we spent the better part of the last two years breaking down walls. We’ve integrated our disparate divisions, imported top talent from Dare U.K., and redrafted how we operate as an agency and how we see the world.  
The result is Dare, a brand-building agency for the digital world. And the next chapter of the story is unfolding here in Vancouver.

THE contributor

Sandy Fleischer is SVP, Managing Partner of Dare Vancouver. He has 16 years’ experience in digital marketing and communications, and is the former general manager of Fjord West. Sandy sits on the board of DigiBC. | LinkedIn | Twitter