Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Single Most Important Point

For years, virtually every creative brief in every agency had a item called the "single most important point." The one thing the ad had to communicate. It made sense, because traditional advertising is full of space limitations: 30 seconds, one page, an outdoor board with a seven word headline. But in reality, it's a strange construct. Consumers don't typically make buying decisions based on one piece of knowledge, at least not for a meaningful purchase. Rather, we buy based on an accumulation of knowledge gained over time from our own experience, product reviews, peer input and yes, advertising.

Traditional media put the advertiser and the agency in the role of editor. Our job was to decide the "single most important point" to tell the audience. That's silly. First, the audience isn't homogeneous. Second, who are we to decide? Third, sometimes the deciding factor is a seemingly minor element of the product. If we're focused only on the "single most important point," we're eliminating the opportunity to put the consumer in touch with that obscure but compelling feature.

And therein lies the beauty of the Internet. We don't have space limitations. We don't have the be the "editor" of information to the consumer. Instead, our role is to be an organizer of and participant in a dialogue with the consumer. More information is better, as long as we can provide the organization to keep it from being a jumbled mess.

As long as traditional media vehicles reach consumers, there will still be ads with a "single most important point." But new opportunities require new forms of storytelling. Good agencies will be adept at both.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Here's a thought: help the customer

Are you a marketer? Read this. (It's the New York Times, so you need to log in, but seriously, if you don't have an account on nyt.com, you should).

This is where marketing's at now. Nike is doing a great job of Bridge-building and Storytelling. The net enables it. Winning marketers will engage in ongoing conversations with consumers, find interesting ways to tell their stories, and will provide services and content that make the lives of their customers easier.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Streaming Video is a Home-Based Activity

The Center for Media Research reported on a study by Advertising.com on consumers' online video viewing habits. According to the study, the vast majority of video streaming occurs at home. A full 95% of respondents said they stream at home, compared to 4% at work and 1% at school. Nearly half (45%) of all video streaming takes place in the evening.

View a PDF of the entire study at Advertising.com.

These findings are a little surprising in a couple of ways. First, most internet use has typically taken place at work, even for activities such as shopping and personal email. Video is not following that same pattern. Second, the percentage of video activity at home indicates just how standard broadband access in the home has become. As recently as 2000, broadband penetration in homes was under 5 percent. Current estimates run in the 45-50% range, an extremely fast adoption rate by U.S. consumers. As the U.S. Commerce Department famously reported in 1995, it took radio 38 years to build an audience of 50 million listeners. Broadband access has been adopted by over 100 million total users in less than 10 years.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Agency of the Future!

Or at least, the agency of the next few years.

I'm not silly enought to pretend I know what the future is all about. If there's one thing that we should all learn from the last 20 years, it's that the next 20 years will bring changes none of us can predict.

I am pretty confident that the agency as a "manufacturer of units of advertising" business model is not going to continue to work indefinitely. Consumers aren't going to stand for it. We are now purchasing an enormous amount of media, at least partially in an attempt to avoid advertising. We pay big cable bills to get commercial-free networks. We buy music to put on our i-Pods so we don't have to listen to the radio. We use RSS feeds to limit the amount of surfing we have to do to get the news stories we want. We're even buying hardware like DVRs to make it easier for us to skip the ads.

So audiences are telling us that they don't want more advertising in the middle of their content. And that spells the end of the advertising units model, sooner rather than later.

But as far as I can tell, people still like a good story.We're still buying books, going to movies, listening to great storytellers. We like stories. And therein lies the opportunity for agencies in the future. Agencies tell stories, and we tend to tell them better than a lot of people. We find ways to make them more interesting, more engaging, more informative.

Good agencies will turn their creative focus to telling the client's story in whatever mode will be most effective. Once in a while it will still be "old-fashioned advertising" (after all, more than 20 million people still tune in every week to watch Grey's Anatomy; it's not easy to aggregate that kind of an audience). But just as often the storytelling will happen via web sites, or events, or street teams, or branded entertainment, or downloadable applications, or books, or any of a hundred other ways that haven't even been dreamed up yet.

Storytelling. Perhaps the oldest form of communication known to man. And the creative backbone of the evolving agency.

Even the best storytellers need to find an audience. So next time we'll talk about bridge-building.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Agency of the Past

Gene Seligman, a non-advertising friend of mine, said something the peaked my interest the other day: "We're a unique generation. The only one that will be able to clearly remember what life was like both before and after the Internet." And that got me to thinking a bit.

Everyone likes to talk about the "agency of the future," myself included. I'll write about it in upcoming days. But now that I've been in this business for nearly 25 years, I want to take a moment to write about the agency of the past.

I took my first agency job in 1984, and when I look back at that now, I'm amazed at how simple the advertising world was. Most people who had cable TV had it because the reception was far superior than the antenna on their roof. Cable networks were just getting started. CNN, MTV, ESPN were trying to figure out their business models and trying to attract more than a few thousand viewers. Network TV was the undisputed media king. In offices, some people were starting to have "personal computers" on their desks, but they couldn't communicate with each other, and a whole lot of work was still being done on IBM Selectric typewriters.

Media planning on a national level was a pretty straightforward exercise. Lead with TV, measure by reach and frequency, determine how you wanted to manage network upfront vs. scatter and which markets should get additional spot support. For prestige products, use the national newsweeklies. Simple.

In the best agencies, creative was king. The creative "big idea" was the umbrella for a campaign. But the business model was manufacturing. We made units of advertising. Single page print ads. Outdoor boards. Thirty second spots. All to fit the campaign.

The advertiser, and the agency, were in complete control. We made nice, controlled little speeches to our target audience. The audience was a passive partner in the business of marketing. Like Top 40 radio, we just beat them over the head until they liked what we had to say.

Four things changed. Remote controls. Media fragmentation. Cell phones and other wireless technologies. The Internet. And advertisers went from complete control of the marketing dynamic to (at best) 50/50 conversations with consumers. It's been a remarkable generation. We're not living in the market of the past. Which is why we need the agency of the future. More on that next time.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Fewer Sud$

Advertising Age reports that major brewers have cut traditional media spending by $131 million (24%) during the first six months of 2007. The result? Increased sales. So traditional media takes another hit.

One thing that interested me in the article is the assertion that total spending is not down, and may actually have increased. Media reporting service TNS is taken to task for its (in)ability to accurately measure local media as well as non-traditional media. Even back in the pre-Internet days, accurate spending information was hard to come by. Now, with so many more choices available, the problem is greatly exaggerated. A business opportunity for someone...

In any case, a 24% decrease has to send more shivers down the spine of network execs and professional sports league management types, which derive so much revenue from the beer companies. Perhaps this explains the late-season troubles of the Milwaukee Brewers. Or maybe not.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Center for Media Research, a favorite resource of mine, published information from a recent ComScore release that says Americans viewed 9 billion online videos in July. Right, 9 billion. 134 million of us watched video online, which means that the average person watched 67 clips, or a little more than 2 per day.

Of course, averages can kill you--I'd like to see the distribution of that viewership. But even so, we're talking about a lot of time with video. At an average of 2.7 minutes per video, people are spending about 3 hours a month watching video online. What are all the things you spent 3 hours doing last month? And if people are spending those 3 hours with online video, what other activity are they giving up?