Writing in the current issue of Market Leader, Ian Humphris, joint managing director of integrated agency Life, suggested that digital is "the discipline that refuses to grow up and be accountable" for FMCG marketers.
Brand managers are guilty of over-investing in this channel, he said, driven by a mix of pressure internally from senior executives worried about missing out, pressure externally from media agencies seeking to diversify their revenue streams and from new media networks keen to monetise their users.
The hard reality for FMCG brands, said Humphris, is that brand interaction typically only lasts about 15 minutes every few weeks. And in-store, many consumers view them as commodities with purchase decisions made in a few seconds influenced by whatever is on deal.
"Does Mum, who's feeding the family on a finite budget, really want an 'always on' digital relationship with a jar of pasta sauce across umpteen different channels?" he asked.
And despite the ability of marketers to reach people with more messages that are more targeted and more often, "You're more likely to have twins than click on an online ad," Humphris observed.
But, if marketers can rethink their approach to digital there are real opportunities, he added, particularly in working with retailers to shorten the distance between consideration and purchase.
So they should look to "marketing activity that is invested in, and executed through the retailer in the form of shopper marketing, promotions, exclusives, and so on".
And this can work especially well in an online environment, where cross-category link deals that may be difficult to execute in-store – such as co-located beer, pizza and a DVD for a big night in – face no barriers.
Brands can even add value through solutions such as meal deals, recipe ideas and accompaniment suggestions.
Digital's role, Humphris concluded, is as an appropriately weighted part of the marketing mix.
Data sourced from Market Leader