Tag Archives: communications

The agency of the future will be a horse of a different color

Brian Morrissey recently wrote in Adweek about the “great race” between traditional and digital shops to become the lead agency, that is, the agency that leads all brand communications efforts for the client among a stable of shops covering specific specialties.  Morrissey’s piece reports on a Forrester “state of interactive agencies” survey showing that only 23% of global interactive marketers believe that the “the traditional brand agency is capable of planning and managing interactive marketing activities.”  Conversely, only 22% think their interactive agency is ready to assume the leading role in managing all brand communications.  Thus the great race for world domination of brand stewardship between the traditional and digital agencies is off! To quote Morrissey, “…traditional shops scramble to add digital know-how and digital shops seek to move up the ladder to become brand stewards…”

Joseph Jaffee, in his latest installment of JaffeJuiceTV suggests there’s a third horse in the race, the social media agency.  (Thanks to Joe for drawing my attention to the Morrissey article in his video.)  You have to admire Joe for waving the social media flag, since his company, crayon, was just acquired along with two other companies by powered to create the first “social media agency with scale,” as I believe he calls it.

When a traditional agency acquires digital know-how — usually that means buying a digital agency — that’s one thing.  Integrating that expertise with the brand strategy capabilities of the acquiring agency is quite another.  Whether it’s a two or three-horse race, ultimately it’s about tearing down the walls that stand between traditional, digital and social in our minds and in the way we work so that ideas move freely, are informed and work across all three. It means bringing people of different minds, with different perspectives, together, ideally in physical space, not separating them into silos, so they can create something better and more powerful together.  The agencies that get that right will be the ones that win.  And then it won’t matter if they’re traditional, digital or social.  Because at that point they will be a horse of a completely different color.

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Said the advertising to the academic, “The rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated”

I’m a little late to this one but I’d like to share some thoughts all the same.

Last March, Eric Clemons, who is a professor at the Wharton School, one of America’s top business schools, wrote a post on TechCrunch entitled “Why Advertising Is Failing On The Internet.” It caused quite a stir.  Professor Clemons’s key thesis is that online advertising will ultimately fail.  There will be less of it in future because in today’s interconnected world, people don’t want, need or trust ads.

While the piece’s title refers to online advertising, Professor Clemons goes further:

“… simple commercial messages, pushed through whatever medium, in order to reach a potential customer who is in the middle of doing something else, will fail.  It’s not that we no longer need information to initiate or to complete a transaction; rather, we will no longer need advertising to obtain that information.  We will see the information we want, when we want it, from sources that we trust more than paid advertising.  We will find out what we need to know, when we want to make a commercial transaction of any kind.”

Earlier in the post he asserts that “the ultimate failure of broadcast media advertising is likewise becoming clear.”  So he is not talking about the eventual demise of online advertising only, but of advertising in general.

There is much in Professor Clemons’s post with which I agree, as well as some excellent perspectives that really got me to stretch my mind.   Especially thought provoking is his description of paid search as “misdirection,” because it sends consumers to pages that are not necessarily the most valuable to them, but rather to the sites of companies that cough up the most money.  (For this reason he believes Google’s business model is probably unsustainable.) Anyone who knows this blog also knows that I not only recognize, but am inspired by the changes web 2.0 and social media are bringing to fundamentals of marketing, communications and brand-consumer relationships.

Still, I am not convinced by the good professor’s thesis that advertising’s role in the marketing mix — online or otherwise — is necessarily doomed to oblivion.  The reason is that Mr. Clemons has a very info-centric view of advertising, as you can see by the previous quote and in the definition of advertising below that he offers in his post (passages in bold are mine):

“Advertising is using sponsored commercial messages to build a brand and paying to locate these messages where they will be observed by potential customers performing other activities; these messages describe a product or service, its price or fundamental attributes, where it can be found, its explicit advantages, or the implicit benefits from its use.”

The rumors of my death have been wildly exaggerated

The rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated

If you believe that the only role of advertising is to provide information about a product or brand, or for that matter, that a person’s rational evaluation of a particular brand’s attributes and benefits is the only basis for the choice of that brand over another,  than his thesis makes perfect sense.  But of course we all know that human beings are not especially rationale creatures, especially in their brand choices, and that advertising in many categories plays a role beyond simply conveying product benefits.  It may be out of style to say it, but the truth is that even in an online world where we have easy access to all sorts of information about brands, people are still influenced by other factors in their brand choices than a simple assessment of the benefits received relative to the price paid.

We all know that brands have dimensions beyond the attributes and benefits they offer.  Brands can represent an idea, connect us with a feeling, signify a particular attitude toward life, or express a value with which we personally identify.  Advertising plays a role in shaping those dimensions in our minds, and when the product attributes and quality of two brands are more or less equal, it can be primarily those emotional qualities that determine whether someone chooses one brand over another.

I doubt this will ever change.  It’s in the nature of who we are as human beings.  I remember reading somewhere that it is in our psyche to ascribe human characteristics to inanimate objects.  That’s what’s at the heart of our propensity to ascribe emotional and image dimensions to brands.  It’s through those associations that brands are one of the ways we define who we are to ourselves and to others.  And that’ something else I see no sign of changing.

This doesn’t deny that a brand’s image today is driven much more  than in the past by the thoughts, opinions and impressions that people can now share with thousands of others on line.  But even though online conversations play a bigger role than ever in shaping the collective perception of rational and emotional brand dimensions, this doesn’t mean that brand communications, created by marketers, no longer have any influence at all.  Brand perception is shaped by a myriad of sources — online conversations, ratings and reviews, personal experience, comments from others when we use the brand, our perception of others who use it, and — yes — brand communications.  Just because that last factor plays a smaller role than it did when we lived in a marketing world dominated by one-way messaging from marketer to consumer, it doesn’t mean it plays no role at all today or will play no role in future.

But even if you come from the information angle, I think there is still a role for advertising.  Just because I’m not actively looking for information about a particular product or category, doesn’t mean I wouldn’t want information to find its way to me.  I’m a Mac fan.  I’m happy to get “uninvited” messages about a new Mac product or an upgrade to my current one.  Or even to hear about a new flavor of my favorite tooth paste brand.  (I’m a flavored tooth paste junkie.)

One of Mr. Clemons’s arguments is that advertising will fail because people don’t feel it is a trustworthy source of information.  But in future, it’s quite possible that advertising will gain in credibility because marketers will be forced to provide a higher level of truthfulness and integrity in their messages and claims, precisely because in a web 2.o world, any inaccuracies or attempts at deception will be quickly exposed and shared mercilessly.

There seem to be a whole bunch of people making extremely black-and-white statements about the future of marketing and communications these days, about whether advertising as we know it (or knew it) will fail or succeed, evolve or be doomed to oblivion.  No one really  knows, but certainly a lot of people seem to act like they do.  Rather than channeling all this energy into debate on these questions, which is a bit of a tempest in teapot, we should focus more on exploring and sharing what’s working, what’s not working, and how old and new media potentially work together.  And then see what happens.

Does that mean that this is the last time I’ll ever raise my voice in the debate?

Probably not.

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Jeff Jarvis thinks advertising is failure. What do you think?

This talk by Jeff Jarvis on the future of marketing and advertising was made at the recent Brite Conference at Columbia Business School.  It’s well worth the 21 minute investment to watch it.

Jarvis’s central thought is that advertising is failure.  It’s merely an inadequate replacement for what should be an ongoing exchange between the people running companies and the people that buy those companies’ products and services.  In an online world where new social media technologies are enabling these direct conversations to happen, Jarvis asks a fundamental question:  Will advertising, as “middleman,” still have a role to play?

I think it will, and Jarvis at the end of his talk essentially acknowledges that it will.  But it does make you imagine that what will serve brands better in future is less what we think of as advertising, and more about simply spreading the word to people who care.  It will depend upon connected consumers to pass messages along, which in turn will place a greater premium than in the past on messages that are engaging and entertaining through great stories, or interactivity, or elements of gaming, or who knows what.  And encouraging consumers to mash-up and modify the content in order to give it their personal spin.

I think there will continue to be a role for advertising, but its role will change, and with it, the nature of advertising itself.

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Compare the Meerkat — brilliance or borrowed interest?

compare-the-meerkat

Everyone seems to be singing the praises of Compare the Meerkat — an integrated marketing campaign for the UK price comparison site comparethemarket.com featuring “spokes-critter” Alexandr Orlov.  Alexandr engages with us on TV, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and his own microsite.  The campaign is bold, funny and distinctive, but is it working?  This is a genuine question.  Does anyone know?  I haven’t been able to find any business results or analysis.

As much as I admire comparethemarket.com for expanding beyond the comfort zone of traditional media, I remain skeptical about the campaign’s effectiveness.  It has undoubtedly generated a tremendous amount of buzz and good will.  Furry Alexandr’s Facebook page boasts 342,567  fans and he has 11,179 Twitter followers, including me.  This should theoretically boost top-of-mind awareness for the company, which is nothing to sniff at in an online category that has grown fat with more or less indistinguishable offers.

But most of the talk seems to be about the campaign and not about the brand.  In fact, the heart of the idea is Alexandr telling everyone that if you’re looking to compare prices, you’ve come to the wrong place.  Okay — most of us who spend any time thinking about this marketing and advertising stuff get the point, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a sizable number of potential customers don’t.  If there’s one thing that often misguides marketers and the agencies that create their communications, it’s the egotistical fantasy that the general public spends as much time thinking about the brand and its advertising as they do.  In fact, most people couldn’t give a “meerkat’s ass” about most brands, and aren’t ready to invest more than a millisecond of their brain power figuring out advertising that isn’t clear about what it’s selling.

On the other hand, I could see a possible strategic rationale in keeping people engaged with comparethemarket.com through the ongoing entertainment value of Alexandr and his various meerkats.  When the time came that a particular customer entered the market for insurance, comparethemarket.com would be the destination of choice.

Judging by the comments and topic discussions on Alexandrs Facebook page, his fans certainly seem to be engaged — with Alexandr, with meerkats, and with all sorts of things relating to that.  The one thing they don’t seem to be engaged with is comparethemarket.com.  I don’t have the impression that anyone remembers that Alexandr is connected with the service, if they ever even noticed to begin with, or even cared.  There’s a ballooning cult behind Alexandr.  It appears a star has been born — but it’s not the brand.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe in the power of social media for brands.  (Why the heck would I write this blog if I didn’t.) But I’m not sure that Compare the Meerkat does justice to the potential of social media to connect consumers and brands, nor that it will be anything more than the bright blaze of a social media fad that will eventually sputter out.  I’d be happy to be proven wrong.  I would love to see evidence that this isn’t just borrowed interest, but brilliance indeed.

Does anybody out there have it?

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January 20th, 2009 — the inauguration of a new kind of marketing

In a recent post on Advertising Age online, Sam Levin describes a development on Facebook relating to tagging photos with friends’ names.  In order to promote a cause, candidate, event or what have you, a Facebook user tags that photo with the names of “influential” Facebook friends.  The photo then shows up in the feeds of all the friends of that influencer, tagged with his or her name, indicating — falsely — a connection or implicit endorsement between the influencer and the cause.  Understand? (It took me a while.)  What’s important is that the photo isn’t of the influential Facebook user, it relates to the cause.  And, as someone else tags the user’s name to the photo, the implied endorsement is false.  I guess you could call it deceptive testimonial advertising, Facebook style.

Mr. Levin goes on to say that this could be “a really terrific idea for someone looking to broadly push a message” and suggests the possibility of a marketing campaign working in this way.  In a follow up post to comments objecting to the practice as misleading, Mr. Levin responds that this is simply a “re-purposing of a channel intended for one thing towards another end, but regardless of value judgment, any online communication platform is an exercise in design defining the way information is transacted.  Systems will always be adopted for the most profitable ends possible, just as water flows downhill.”  He goes on to say that “Social networks, just like email before them, are going to have to contend with the fact that through their constructions they open themselves up for use in ways they do not intend (which may or may not be sub-optimal for their user base).”

This assessment is disturbing:

1) It implies that any use of a medium, regardless of how deceptive, is justified if it provides profit to the media provider and enables marketers to achieve business objectives.

2) It encourages marketers to continue to use the old communications model of “pushing” commercial messages in front of people whether they want to hear them or not, rather than applying the marketer’s  energy to find innovative models that work with, not against, the new dynamics of social media to empower communications and conversations.

3) It’s the kind of thinking that make people mistrust marketing — and rightly so.  Sure, baiting people with a friend’s tag to get them to click on a photo that connects them to a marketing message may create a brand impression, but is a brand impression that tricks a person into receiving it under false pretenses an effective one?  Especially when social media offers so many ways that can motivate people to opt in to hearing your message?  I don’t think so.

Which brings me – in case you were wondering — to the title of this post.  During his campaign, President-elect Barack Obama talked about the end of “politics as usual.”  Americans, he said, were tired of the deceptive, misleading and shallow tactics of the Washington establishment, which they recognized to be  more about each party’s hunger for political power, than about addressing the challenges facing the nation and helping secure a better future for its citizens and the world.

I think the country is hoping that come January 20th, 2009, we will witness not just the inauguration of a new president, but of a new era of honesty, transparency and mutual respect in politics.  Is it to idealistic to hope the same for marketing and communications?

Okay — comparing misleading tags on Facebook photos to past evils in Washington may be a stretch.  But the practice Mr. Levin suggests is symptomatic of a much wider array of marketing practices, supported by billions of dollars, that often manipulate the truth, mislead consumers, and bash them into submission with commercial messages in the hope of making a sale.  Social media enables marketing  and communications that, like the political tone many of us hope for, are grounded in honesty, transparency and mutual respect between the brand and consumers.  Don’t we have more to gain by pursuing new communications practices that are empowered by the tools and the spirit of communities like Facebook, rather than manipulating those communities to try and preserve the old model of one-way, push communications?

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We can to do better than pre-roll advertising

I recently received an eMarketer notice entitled, “Online Video Advertising Starts Looking Good.”  eMarketer says that 65% of internet users now view some form of video advertising and projects that by 2012, 4 out 5 of them will.  I presume these are US statistics.  Now, 4 out of 5 is 80%, which doesn’t seem like that much of an increase.  What’s more, eMarketer defines an online video ad viewer as someone who sees any form of video advertising at least once a month.  That doesn’t sound like much either.

You also have to ask what we mean by viewing? Right now, video pre-roll commercials are one of the more common forms of online advertising.  But if this is the best format we can come up with, it hardly looks like a promising start to goodness, much less greatness.

Here’s a recent experience I had, which you’ve probably had at some point as well.  I was investigating a topic online, and clicked on a link to a video relating to it on MSNBC.  Before I could watch my video, I was forced to watch a pre-roll advertisement for a bottled salad dressing.  There was no discernible connection between the video I wanted to watch and salad dressing, food or meal preparation. Nor do I use bottled salad dressing. But if I ever do in future, I will be sure never to buy this particular brand.  Not because the ad was bad, but because the advertiser forced me to watch it.  So I guess technically I viewed the ad.  But it would have been better off for the brand if I hadn’t.

Pre-roll ads adhere to old marketing thinking that the marketer can still control the message in an age (today), and an environment (the internet), in which consumers demand to be able to choose the commercial messages they want to receive and the time and place to receive them.  Forcing an advertising message down my throat when I am in internet “search mode” is the perfect way to irritate me and turn me off to your brand.

The future of online advertising will really start to look good when, similar to Google AdWords, the technology can tailor the online video ad to the content of the video I’m watching, increasing the likelihood that the product advertised might be relevant to me, and allow me to opt in to hear the message if I so desire.  I would think this is technically possible now and the only reason it isn’t happening is because marketers are reluctant to give up the control of message delivery they’ve enjoyed up to now.

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The antidote for the TV network is called the world wide web

The rumors of my death have been wildly exaggerated.

The rumors of my death have been wildly exaggerated.

Forgive me if I sound like I’m beating the proverbial dead horse.  But with all respect to Joseph Jaffe (social media maven par excellence and author of two terrific books — Life After the 30-Second Spot and Join the Conversation), I continue to struggle with the widespread assertion that the 30-second commercial has witnessed its heyday and will soon vanish from the face of the planet.  Note that I’m not saying 30-second television commercial.  The reason for the distinction will become clear.

I have written on an earlier blog post about how effectively this old format can tell a product or brand story in a remarkably efficient amount of time.  What’s more, while I am as excited as anyone by the possibilities social media and web 2.0 tools create for brands and “consumers” to engage on a much more personal level, we live in an and/and communications world.  Fact is, there are still times when people aren’t interested in a conversation (much less creating their own TV spot).  Conversation takes time, which is one thing most people have very little of.  If there’s a new, household product out there that is going to make my life easier, or if I’m in the market for a new mobile phone, then I’m not necessarily interested in a conversation.  Right now, I may just want to get a quick overview of the product choices available to me.  I want to hear what you have to offer — fast — and then get on with it.  A one-way message is just fine.

It’s simply not true that people have a problem with 30-second commercials.  They have a problem with bad commercials — ones that are unclear, convey no apparent benefit, or do so with an execution so tedious and irritating, they’d like to throw a brick through their TV screen.  Even more so, they have a problem with commercials, good or bad, for products or services that are irrelevant to them, and that show up as uninvited and disturbing interruptions to their favorite shows.

The problem isn’t the commercial, the problem is the distribution system.  Television networks are simply ineffective at delivering a specific message to the people for whom that message is relevant, and only to them.

Enter social media!

Marketers should think about online communities and networks as a new, superbly effective distribution system for their messages.  I don’t mean they should push commercials into online social networks uninvited, but instead enable individuals online to discover commercials that are personally interesting and relevant to them.  And then pass them along to others — friends, their communities, their blogging audience — for whom they think these will also be of interest.

A mom blogger who discovers a great new kids product will be connected to others who are in the same life situation, have similar needs and will also want to know about that product.  If she has access to a commercial that she thinks gets the product story across, especially if it’s executed in an appealing way, she will naturally pass it on.  All the more if she has tried and was happy with the product.  What she won’t do is share that commercial with her online connections for whom she knows the story won’t be interesting.  In this way the community becomes a self-regulating system that ensures the message spreads only to those people who will get value from it.  How cool is that?

It doesn’t necessarily have to be the traditional 30-second spot, although when people suggest to others that they take a look at a product message, 30 seconds are relatively risk free.  If, perchance, the story isn’t of interest, at least they only wasted 30 seconds of the their friends’ precious time.

So here’s something marketers ought to consider placing on the packaging of their next product launch, upgrade or line extension.  “If you like our product, please go to http://www.brandx.com, upload our TV commercial, and share it with your friends online who you think would also be interested.”  If the expression “TV commercial” seems too pre-web 2.0, then call it a 30-second video if that makes you feel more in sync with the age of “YouTube.”

It can’t hurt.  And it just might get your message to spread across a network of thousands of interconnected, prospective buyers for whom it isn’t an intrusion, but a welcome source of news and information.

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