March 18, 2010 § Leave a comment
It strikes me that nothing stupid has ever come from the mouth or pen (or keyboard) of Doug Weaver, which is a remarkable record given his 15 years as an Internet sales activist and pundit. This is a more emphatic way of saying that Doug is always saying smart things; but emphatic matters here because what Doug says today in his blog, “The Drift” (“I Got My Micro Site in a Box”), should be pinned, like idiot mittens, to the sleeve of everyone in the Internet business each morning before they head out to wait for the bus to work.
Here’s his opener:
“For the last three years I’ve been on a mission to bury the micro site. The whole idea of building these little Potemkin marketing villages, bolting them onto our domains and then coaxing and cajoling consumers to visit them would be quaint if it weren’t so destructive.”
Further in Doug says:
“In just about every workshop I conduct I urge — plead with! — sellers to end the madness. “There’s no reason to do these anymore,” says I. “Take the visual assets of your media brand, fold in some creative and product messaging from the sponsor, dump it all into a Flash ad unit and distribute it!”
The part about “distribute it” made instant sense to me but I had to call Doug to make sure I understood who the “Potemkin village” builders were in his description. Publishers, it seemed. But why?
Well, it turns out that online publishers are in the habit of retro-fitting content to meet the special needs of advertisers by building custom environments more suitable to a product’s context. Advertisers desiring more on the subject of, say, acne skin treatments for teenage girls, 12 – 15 years old, against which to match their acne skin treatment advertisements, could prevail upon the publishers to create a “micro site” for that purpose to be buried among all the music and entertainment content (for instance) to which the teenage girls were first and foremost attracted, thus establishing an ancillary requirement to build traffic to that micro site.
There is precedent for this sort of “Please, maybe you like something else?” practice of selling advertising. The editorial calendar in magazines and newspapers comes to mind. Once upon a time destination travel advertisers the world over would freely buy pages in the Sunday Travel sections of newspapers. Then, under pressure from advertisers for better access to their best customers, newspapers began to create special destination sections that eventually had the effect of training advertisers to anticipate and wait for those sections. Which leads to the question of how many sections on Hawaii one newspaper can reasonably run per year without undermining its coverage of the travel world for readers? Two?
“Fine!” the Hawaiian advertisers responded in those days. “We’ll take two pages. We can use the savings on the other four pages we use to buy from you elsewhere.”
This is what happens when we chicken-out on selling value.
Save that point for a rainy day and worry about the fact that in a new media world that provides for the limitless availability of contextual opportunities, we’re still building Potemkin villages – by definition, impressive but fake.
All the while Google has amassed a fortune on the genuine article: the distributed, contextual power of the Internet – the fact that the editorial circumstances exist in real time to satisfy almost every conceivable advertising objective. Online there is always a right time and place that is suitable (as suitable as every fake village) to host the right message.
Which should be the whole point of Internet media buying because, after all, we are sympathetic to our Hawaii travel and acne skin treatment customers who desire to reach their best customers, and who found it increasingly difficult to do so offline, enough so that they started to revolt against the waste of traditional media and advertising.
Doug Weaver wants to help publishers with his post; mostly brand publishers that he may be worrying aloud are taking short cuts on the value of their inventory and swimming against the tide of media distribution, which is away from the center. They have a chance using the creative resources available today to bundle their authentic selves with advertising and distribute it together, beyond their borders, to where the people are.
This post is for buyers. Listen to Doug and take the message to the people – now that the chance to do so is real, and not from a box.
The International Advertising Festival in Cannes looms as a reminder that the advertising business isn’t what it use to be.
June 15, 2009 § Leave a comment
The International Advertising Festival in Cannes is scheduled to begin in less than a week and advertising critic and chaos theorist, Bob Garfield, is not looking forward to it judging from his column in Advertising Age today. Says he:
“They should give Crispin Porter & Bogusky every statue on Monday and send everybody to the airport. Gold. Silver. Titanium. Plutonium. Whatever.
Because first of all, apart from Burger King, the advertising year was a black hole worldwide. Besides, at this stage of Cannes’ history, what’s the point?”
The heart of advertising having gone out of the :30 second commercial, the death of creative at Cannes seems nearly final – or so it may appear. Of the 50 award front runners, reliably compiled over the years by Leo Burnett, Garfield reports that only 29 of them are TV commercials. The remainder are a mish-mash of online and offline submissions which by their nature have a hard time making us laugh or cry and, so, a hard time getting us worked-up enough to think happier thoughts about the state of advertising creative in the world today. If we are in Cannes, we will feel better going to the beach.
I’d have to go back and read it carefully again (which I’m not prepared to do just at this moment) to see if Bob Garfield spoke about progress when he launched his Chaos Scenario on the ad community. Clearly, advertising feels the rip-tide affect of significant changes that have been underway for a couple of decades. But is it chaos and disaster or progress? Can advertising reconstitute itself, creatively, in a post-film commercial world?
It can, but we must re-learn advertising creative – how to make it and how to experience it. At the moment, the un-tangling from TV commercial know-how has not been replaced with the know-how to make effective advertisements for an online and mobile world. The switch from one to the other is not automatic for any of us, creators or consumers. And, it is impossible that it would be, of course, given that big changes of the sort that have been taking place in advertising and media happen only one way: generationally, as one generation hands off to another.
The heirs-apparent of the TV generation were just getting comfortable in their corner offices when the creative protocols of New Media advertising descended on them. These were people that spent years navigating their way to those offices by dutifully absorbing the wisdom of their elders and, now, not enough of what they’d learned would pay for what they needed in a post-TV world. Worse for them – and us – finding what they needed might require asking the younger, dues-paying generation coming-up behind what they’d recommend, which old-timers everywhere are loath to do (and which the smugness of new generation-types doesn’t usually help).
One should not be surprised, then, that having to face forward and then backwards for advice and direction during their careers would make the current, transitional generation of advertising professionals feel irritable and less-fulfilled. The business ain’t what it use to be, or ought to be. As such, we won’t begrudge anyone a few trips to Cannes to wait out change on the beach. But we won’t be surprised, either, to find only 29, not-altogether-decent TV commercials and, then, a majority of other entries that we don’t fully understand, or warm to. We are leaving one art form behind while we learn another and our heart’s not completely in it.
We can’t have long to wait, however, before the ones and zeros of a digital age are making our creative motor go. Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft, is going to be named Media Person of the Year at the Cannes festival next week, an unlikely prospect even a few short years ago when Microsoft was still in the software development business.
March 17, 2009 § Leave a comment
Nice interview by Rich Cherecwich in iMedia today with Lars Bastholm, Creative Director at AKQA, to discuss “What’s crushing creativity?”, which refers specifically to creativity online, although I don’t know why the question shouldn’t be put to creativity offline. A :30 commercial may feel substantially more satisfying to a marketer compared to a 728 x 90 leaderboard, but it’s of no greater value if it’s not memorable. And there’s very little memorable advertising breaking-through these days, if you ask me as a consumer.
As it happens, I think Lars Bastholm speaks about a broader problem when he says: “…it’s not that you can’t do something fun with banners. It’s that we’ve effectively managed to kill them by plastering them everywhere and making rigid rules for what you can do in order to maximize sales, not actual consumer satisfaction or consumer enjoyment of the marketing we’re doing.”
Really, how different is this lament from the one we would make about any commercial media? The only difference online might be the extent to which we should be additionally mournful for having failed to act with any restraint early on before “plastering” the market with ads that don’t have much more to say than, “Click Me!” It’s not like we didn’t know, thanks to the remote control and VCR, that consumers were having issues with advertising.
March 12, 2009 § Leave a comment
The latest edition of the Shift Happen videos (below) – just reaching my small corner of the world – is cruising past 2.5 million views on YouTube. What it does for me, as an advertising and media professional, is make me thankful again to be at work during an extraordinary information revolution. It reminds me that, no, I don’t miss the good old days of magazines and newspapers, though I loved them. And it makes me nuts that the advertising business sits in a corner, forced by its minders to stay indoors while the world plays outside.
February 11, 2009 § Leave a comment
As reported by both Advertising Age and The Wall Street Journal today, Bob Lachky, Chief Creative Officer of Anheuser-Busch is leaving the company after 20 years. Mr. Lachky was the person behind many celebrated Anheuser-Busch campaigns, including “Wassup?!“, the Budweiser Frogs and the “I love you, Man” commercials.
Mr. Lachky’s commercials, created in partnership with long-time agency DDB, won numerous awards and wove themselves into our culture. Before the term “social network” was popularized by the Internet, his commercials were creating social networks around water coolers – social networks that then got together after work for a beer.
Watching these commercials again on You Tube this afternoon all my thoughts were about the risks that Bob Lachky took with the Anheuser-Busch brand messages. I watched “Wassup?!” and thought, “How did he get to ‘yes’ with that?” The frog’s? I can clearly remember my reaction the first time I saw the frogs commercial; it was, “Huh?” They grew on me. Looking at them today, I love them. But, it is interesting to note that both Ad Age and The Journal essentially summarized the career and success Mr. Lachky had at Anheuser-Busch with a quote from him at the end, as follows: “I was fired more times than Billy Martin.”
You see, in the creative business risk is everything. Great creative does not emerge risk free. That is why Ad Age and The Wall Street Journal summarized Bob Lachky’s career as they did, in my estimation, because intuitively it is known that what made Mr. Lachky great were the risks he took, risks that nearly cost him his job as many times as Billy Martin (who was fired five times).
Now, let’s talk about media as the “new creative,” a popular term today. How much media risk takes place in the world today? Executional risk such as video and widgets and layer ads doesn’t count. That’s creative. Not media. I’m talking about planning risk: TV v. Internet. Satellite Radio v. Broadcast. Branded Content v. the Long tail. Actions attributable to less than 1% of an audience v. Impressions attributable to 99% of an audience. What’s our gut about media value? What bets have we made on it? Who’s bet their job on a media instinct?
Advertising.com, before it disappeared inside Platform A, used to talk about “risk free” advertising. No surprise – and very much to the point being made here – they got big. But what has it done for us online all this talk about risk free and results? Reading Randall Rothenberg’s exceptional piece on Interactive Creativity (featured on this blog yesterday), the answer is not much. As the new creative, media is simply failing to inspire those who would take their cue from it in order to develop messages that move people and brands online.
We have to kiss some frogs here. We have to take some chances and say “I love you, Man.”
Really. I love you, Man.