Alex Hesz: Ritson is wrong – ‘interactive’ and ‘digital’ mean very different things

Alex Hesz

The premise of Mark’s article is that digital and interactive are synonymous, and that after ditching the first (correctly) we have ‘replaced’ it with the latter.

On both counts, that is not the case. The two words demonstrably mean very different things. Digital is, as Mark quite rightly says, omnipresent. It’s like electricity. Everything that is web-connected is digital, and hence almost all marketing surfaces from digital six sheets to YouTube mastheads to SMS retail offers fall under that definition. So the term is useless. On that, I entirely agree with Mark.

But interactivity is not omnipresent. Interactive, to us, means an experience that requires and allows the consumer to participate in order to alter the outcome. They are a protagonist in the experience.

Therefore escalator panels are digital, but not interactive. Netflix series are digital, but not interactive (in any serious way). Podcasts, digital 48 sheets, pre-rolls: all connected to the web; none of them interactive. I would even argue that much of the digital display inventory brands typically buy is digital but not interactive.

Conversely, there are plenty of examples of the reverse being true; point of sale, for instance, is frequently interactive but not connected to the web (think of the green discs at Waitrose), so too product design, service design, customer service. All intensely interactive, in that consumers are able and indeed required to alter the experience, but not necessarily connected to the web.

Of course, a great majority of interactive work is web-connected, so ‘digital’, but so too is a great majority of display and film. Hence digital is an unhelpful delineation, because almost everything is, but interactive (as opposed to display or film) is an extremely useful one, because so many things aren’t.

At adam&eveDDB that’s how we have decided to order our work: under film, display and interactive. The reason we have retired the word ‘digital’ is that it is not a helpful delineation. It’s not separate to film, display or interactive. It’s across them all. To simply say, then, that we have replaced the word ‘digital’ with the word ‘interactive’ is neither true of the meaning of the words (at least how we see them), nor an accurate summary of the structural change that we have made.

Hide Comments4 Show Comments
  • Tess_Alps 25 Jan 2016 at 1:21 pm

    Hi Alex. I’ve placed a comment under Mark’s original post that is meant for you as much as him. But just wanted to add that I’m disturbed you think TV, video and film mean the same thing and, if you let me, I’d love to come and explain why they’re not. Or someone else from Thinkbox maybe. Cheers.

  • Sandra Pickering 24 Apr 2016 at 3:37 pm

    Just came across this (rather late) and I agree with Tess Alps’ earlier comment.
    I also agree with Alex that digital is an unnecessary qualifier these days and interactive means something different. I’m curious that not all your work is interactive though – in fact most of it seems not to be interactive. Have I misread that?

  • Robin S 29 Jun 2016 at 10:53 pm

    Mostly agree. Interactivity is not the same as digital at all. It does involve a responder to qualify as interactive.”They are a protagonist in the experience.” Well, a participant if not a protagonist,ok? I don’t know what an escalator Panel is but an elevator button is certainly interactive at it’s most basic level. A person can be interactive without clicking a button, but if a tree falls in the woods and we don’t know it then it doesn’t count in a fiscal way. Unless you are TV. That’s why we moving away from “guess-metrics” coined by Robin M. Solis 062916 02:50PM PST. I just now made that up!! I know you can’t copyright a phrase but what to do other than time stamp the first use?

    • Robin S 29 Jun 2016 at 10:54 pm

      For more from me on this topic, see Mark’s post.

  • Post a comment

Latest from Marketing Week


Access Marketing Week’s wealth of insight, analysis and opinion that will help you do your job better.

Register and receive the best content from the only UK title 100% dedicated to serving marketers' needs.

We’ll ask you just a few questions about what you do and where you work. The more we know about our visitors, the better and more relevant content we can provide for them. And, yes, knowing our audience better helps us find commercial partners too. Don't worry, we won't share your information with other parties, unless you give us permission to do so.

Register now


Our award winning editorial team (PPA Digital Brand of the Year) ask the big questions about the biggest issues on everything from strategy through to execution to help you navigate the fast moving modern marketing landscape.


From the opportunities and challenges of emerging technology to the need for greater effectiveness, from the challenge of measurement to building a marketing team fit for the future, we are your guide.


Information, inspiration and advice from the marketing world and beyond that will help you develop as a marketer and as a leader.

Having problems?

Contact us on +44 (0)20 7292 3703 or email

If you are looking for our Jobs site, please click here