MRM Worldwide’s Global Chief Creative Director Wishes Happy Birthday to the Intel 4004 CPU

January 13, 2011 § Leave a comment

MRM Worldwide’s Creative head, Oren Frank, offers Happy Birthday and remembrance in Ad Age to the Intel 4004 on the occasion, more-or-less, of its debut in 1971. The Intel 4004 was the world’s first commercially produced, commercial processing unit (CPU) and it boasted the fantastic number of 23,000 transistors on one chip the size of a fingernail. Today, Intel chips can host 800 million transistors, and the chips are everywhere, including cars, toasters, toys and washing machines, writes Oren. “Almost paradoxically,” he says, “with the growth of computing power in our lives, technology is disappearing from sight. Since computing power is now part of almost everything we do, we take it for granted, and pay attention to it only when it fails — similar to what happened with electrical power in the previous millennium.”

Technology that delivers on a promise becomes ubiquitous and, eventually, disappears from view. As a consequence it still makes me crazy whenever the Internet gets referred to as the “tech sector.” It misses the point, to the extent that if technology disappears from view – as it is poised to do in the living rooms of America – what will differentiate the Internet from television? Functionality? Maybe partly. Content? Most definitely. In any event, will the Internet join the media sector, or will TV join the tech sector?

TV technology disappeared from view a long time ago. That doesn’t change the fact that we depend on satellites in orbit to receive our programming. They, in turn, depend on lots of Intel chips. But the television industry is about the consumer at the point of contact with the programming and, ultimately, the advertising that feeds off those contact points. That’s media. The Internet, which depends on the same things is also, therefore, media.

A small point? Not really. If the value is in the programming then attention to the programming becomes the paramount consideration, and we’re not there yet online. Advertising is not yet, fundamentally, aligned with consumer value online, which it still tries to escape or ignore by separating consumers from content.

Perhaps not in the future, when Oren Frank envisions a marketing world that will use technology to wade deeply into the value of content, converting brands into media and clients into publishers. He writes:

“As 4004 and its offspring become ubiquitous and disappear from our line of sight, the importance of writing great lines will again be paramount for marketing and communications. They will not be copy or poetry lines, but lines of code. Our future lies in writing great software that delivers brands as media and services to consumers, and we still have a unique advantage in understanding what they (and we) will want.

“As Brands are becoming media our clients will become publishers, and will shift to annuities — currently called “owned media”.

Owned media, paid media or earned media. Print, broadcast or cable. Internet. Whichever. Happy Birthday, Intel 4004, from Media to You.

Jonathan Salem Baskin Puts the Cards on the Table: Brands Died with Mass Media

January 5, 2011 § Leave a comment

Please consider this statement:

Since 1980 the number of consumer products has grown and fragmented significantly. Today, for instance, there are in excess of 40,000 stock keeping units (SKUs) in the average supermarket, which is triple the number 30 years ago. Alongside, in response, the media business has grown equally fragmented in order to keep pace with the need of marketers to reach their many different target audiences within supportive media environments. In each case – consumer product and consumer media – the driver has been demand among consumers for personal value.

Hold that thought.

Now turn to the column by marketing consultant, Jonathan Salem Baskin, in Ad Age this week where he pointedly says:

“Brands and mass media are inexorably connected. Brands — the premise that ideas could be grafted onto (or over) businesses — came into existence hand-in-hand with the mass-media tools of the 20th century that created them. Brands haven’t survived multiple iterations of technology and cultural change; they were born in a particular moment in history, and that moment ended over a decade ago.”

And, he continues:

“Many brands are dead, only they don’t know it yet. They died when the mass media that delivered them fractured into endless outlets and communication became two-way, thereby making the ideas that differentiated one brand from the next harder to believe and nearly impossible to sustain. The problems that plague them aren’t just communications strategy but matters of substance.”

To be clear, brand substance is very much on Jonathan’s mind in his column. He writes:

“Nobody needs your brand because it is a cool or engaging idea. Nobody wakes up with any need or desire to spend more of their life with your marketing. Nobody needs your brand because you give money to charity, generate an incessant stream of online content, or because you’ve made up some special sauce factor that differentiates your product or service benefits from others through measurements such as an enhanced experience or a pervasive Twitter presence.

 “Brands are different only if they’re really different, and this year would be the perfect opportunity to come up with the substantive [emphasis added] reasons why consumers need yours vs. how you’re going to use neat new ways to tell them the same old things.”

This is good, earnest stuff. In all likelihood, we have a meeting with yet another brand consulting client of Jonathan’s to thank for having asked him once too many times, “Can you come back with a social media strategy?” after which Jonathan sped away thinking dark thoughts. Those thoughts turned into an Ad Age column that entreats the marketing world to, essentially, quit faking it.

Back to the beginning and the thought you are holding.

No one ever seems to want to make the connection between consumer product and media fragmentation as a thing that occurred jointly, organically, in response to consumer demand. In most cases, media fragmentation is regarded as a bad thing and product fragmentation is regarded as a necessary thing in response to an empowered consumer. They are never regarded together. Jonathan Baskin is no exception.

“Old media still drive the bus. Enough with the blather that CMOs are scared of new media; old media works, whether as the news context that drove awareness of Ford so its social-media entertainment got traction, or paid placements, as in the case of those hilarious commercials (and in-store price promos) that launched Old Spice’s viral video experiment.”

His column is remembering a time when brands issued brand promises and built consumer relationships by delivering on those promises. Now, he suspects, brand marketers are trying to issue relationships because someone said – lots of people said, actually – that the new marketing reality is about relationships. Of course, the reaction from consumers disputes this. Consumer groups, in fact, are seeking laws to restrain advertisers and force them to keep their distance.

“The reason old media work,” Jonathan says, “has everything to do with saying what you mean, and backing it up with tangibly real behaviors. These are the new currencies of successful and sustainable brands.”

Fine, except that old media has nothing to do with it. Any media will work for brands if buttressed by tangible behaviors that deliver on real brand promises, and no media will work if the substance of those promises is missing. These are not new currencies: It is an old saying that nothing kills a bad product faster than great advertising.

But, Jonathan Baskin has made a vitally important point – in effect, a challenge to the marketing world. Brands, he contends, are an invention of the mass media era and now that mass media is gone, brands – many of them, at least – are dead.

Yes to the first point. No to the second. For one thing, if old media still drives the bus, as Jonathan says, old media is not gone or useless. Old media lives on in support of brands and the data says so. But in a deeper sense the history of the past 30 years says that brands are not just “inexorably connected” to “mass media”, but to all media. Brands and media have been equally affected by the desire of consumers for choice, which has led to diversity and fragmentation in each case. Rather than being what separates them, fragmentation is what joins them together – and, ultimately, what offers brands a way forward in the new media age, bus or no bus.

Media, however, is the operative term, not users. Users, Jonathan Baskin rightly points out, do not wake up “with any need or desire to spend more of their life with your marketing.” Old media worked because marketers were unencumbered by the idea that they could have a one-to-one marketing relationship with consumers. They blissfully built their brands relying on old media as the conduit for those relationships. In that way, media helped build brands, but brand promises are what built the relationships.

So, concludes Jonathan Baskin:

“This is the challenge for 2011: thinking past the distractions of vague hopes and useless noise and understanding the products, services, activities and processes that distinguish your brand from all others; identifying why any of it matters.”

Which could easily be recognized as a challenge to the broader media community – new and old – and that’s no coincidence.

Consumers See the Advertising, but Where is the Connection?

December 16, 2010 § Leave a comment

Our company, Burst Media, has just released a research study showing that consumers are very much aware of advertising that seems to follow them around online based on their media behaviors. Reporting on the research in its Online Media Daily newsletter, Media Post noted that over 78% of online users are conscious of advertising that appears “tailored to them based on previous visits to other sites”, and a large portion of those people – 34% – don’t like it. The rest are divided between don’t know/don’t care (38%) and, sure, seems like a good idea (27%).

The important number is the 78%. It confirms that online users get the fact that advertisers are tagging them for follow-up. It’s not a secret. They notice the ad messages protruding into their world and they step around them, as they are experienced at doing. It’s life. Everywhere you go, advertising seems to follow. What are you going to do? Sometimes it’s good. Sometimes it’s bad. Most times, the survey says, who cares?

Welcome to another generation of consumers inured to commercial messaging. How could this happen in an age of extreme media engagement?

Kirk McDonald, President of Digital Time Inc., reportedly offered one answer to that question in remarks he made to attendees of the iMedia Agency Summit going on in Phoenix, Arizona. iMedia described it this way in their report:

Consumers use content to make connections. That fact, according to [Kirk] McDonald, is the most critical piece of the marketing industry today. In front of a slide depicting people whose faces had been replaced with a bull’s-eye, he stated, “We’ve been getting off track — we’ve been turning consumers’ hopes, dreams, and personalities into algorithms. It’s not about the equation — it’s about the experience of consuming it.”

In today’s media economy, which offers boundless opportunities to reach consumers when they are “consuming it,” the only rational reason for not leveraging the value of it – the content – is price. But, indeed, price is such a driver of advertising decision-making at every level today that the new media opportunity – the chance to reach your best customers when they are most pre-disposed to what you have to sell – has been shanghaied. It is cheaper to buy consumer connections as remainder stock – as factory outlet inventory.

(You can sense the irony of that as it relates to the brand marketing world.)

iMedia described the close to Kirk McDonalds address this way::

Substituting “marketer” for “journalist,” McDonald closed the keynote with a quote from Time Inc. founder Henry Luce: “I became a marketer to come as close as possible to the heart of the world.”

Looking out at the audience, McDonald reminded us one last time that the most exciting thing about all of this is the people.

Actually, the only thing about all of this is the people. The most exciting thing should be about the connections. Instead, for a majority it’s simply “Oh look, more advertising.”

Feeling the “Grudging Acceptance” of Online Video Advertising

November 16, 2010 § Leave a comment

AdWeek and others have reported that online video is winning grudging acceptance from consumers. comScore says the total number of online video viewers is up 5% in October, as well as the amount of time viewers are spending watching video, which is now 15.1 hours per month. In parallel, FreeWheel reported that in the third quarter 54% of consumers made it through the completion of pre-roll videos, up from 45% in the first quarter.

AdWeek’s story, by veteran Brian Morrissey, notes the difference that professional content makes in a consumer’s willingness to sit through pre-roll. User generated video still has a hard time being worth the intrusion.

I can relate to that: this morning I started to wait through a pre-roll to get to a professional news clip of Prince William and his fiancée, Kate Middleton. When the commercial went on for more than 10 seconds I snapped out of it and moved on to other things. But, I was ready and almost willing, and I thought – in a vivid, thinking kind of way – wow, that felt almost like television: I was prepared to outlast the commercial by turning my attention to other bits of things at my desk in order to get to the programming.

The AdWeek story makes this point. It says: “[the FreeWheel] report concludes that the Web video ad market is starting to resemble TV — at least for content that’s professionally produced.”

Which drove me back to a funny conversation I had earlier this fall with an experienced media buyer who described substantiating an online video buy with a client by comparing it to TV. Said the client, “No one watches online video commercials!” Replied the media buyer, “No one watches TV commercials!” Thus, was approval won for the online video buy.

I don’t know. The Internet was supposed to help resolve certain consumer – advertiser relationship problems. We seem happy to simply transfer them. We appear to have a problem comfort zone (All video is broken. Long live video). Maybe also a sense of denial. The AdWeek headline, for instance:

More Videos Ads, More User Acceptance

Folks are showing grudging acceptance of such interruptions

Sounds like my father could sometimes sound. “You’ll learn to like it.”

I don’t know. For days last week, Simon Sinek’s piece, “The Ad Industry Needs More Accountability” ran in The Huffington Post (suggesting either the editors were delighted by his arguments or users were) discussing the ad industry’s logical disconnects and repeated avoidances. It was a bit of a rave that, when it got down to it, was about lousy commercials on television. But the final seething bit was about online.

“The final example is what ad agencies are doing online. When advertising plays before a video streamed over the internet, viewers are prevented from fast-forwarding or skipping the ad. It’s like that scene in Clockwork Orange when Malcolm McDowell is forced to watch disturbing images while his eyes lids are held open. In an effort to force people to watch their “valuable message” advertisers are simultaneously infuriating and disturbing their customers. On sites with large video libraries, news sites for example, customers are often forced to watch the same ad over and over and over each time they click watch a different clip. Even if they don’t want to watch the whole clip, they have to watch the whole ad first. I, for one, will not visit one of the network news sites anymore because I can’t stand the thought of being forced to watch an ad before every clip. With perfect irony, the advertising is actually hurting the viewer experience of the media platform that accepted money to run the ad. As for the strategic merit, yes a viewer can be forced to watch an ad, but they can’t be forced to pay attention. That little delicacy can only happen if the advertising is entertaining or compelling enough to hold someone’s attention.”

I don’t know. I’m not feeling the “grudging acceptance” here. More to the point, as brand champions and stewards, are we really in the grudging acceptance business?

Media Robots in an Age of Starvation

November 5, 2010 § 1 Comment

Given only one word to describe 15 years of digital media’s evolution it would have to be robotic. Nothing says this better than the balanced and comprehensive piece by Nicholas Spangler about his 40 hours, or so, as a Demand Media writer that appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review and was brought to light here thanks to MediaBistro’s Morning Newsfeed.

As a journalist that worked for years for The Miami Herald, Spangler writes with open resignation, but not malice, about the end of his journalistic world and the rise of the new one typified by Demand. It is a world of “commercial content,” driven by algorithms “without”, he writes (perhaps quoting Clay Shirky), “regard to civic value or subjective judgments about quality or any of the other sentimental trappings of the Murrow century.”

It is a drab landscape he paints. Gray and Eastern bloc-ish. It is all cement. Combined with similar trends on the media planning and buying side of the business – the automated this-and-that of real time buying and audience targeting – we appear ready to enter a machine-led world where imagination is being wrung from the fabric of information in order to reduce the high cost of it.

It is a world empty of bravery and out of step with the needs of brands except, perhaps, the needs of their capitalist overseers. As importantly, of course, it is world out-of-step with consumers. It seeks control. 

Writes Nicholas Spangler:

“…there is a point where traditional news organizations, which target to a greater or lesser extent a mass audience with advertising to match, will always fail: that failure to meet the needs of someone, somewhere, is built into their business model. Consider: The Miami Herald usually runs a story about the Kentucky Derby. It might also run one about pony-rental businesses in South Florida, and if magazines like Ponies Illustrated and Children’s Parties Monthly existed, they might do something similar. But no publication could afford to devote regular space to topics such as pony rides without ponies. Besides, no writer could conceive of such a story and no editor would assign it, because nobody could anticipate the need.

“This is the famous “long tail,” an example of what Shirky calls the “nichification” of the media landscape, unfeasible under the conditions of twentieth-century oligopoly but happening now before our eyes.”

No, it happened over 15 years ago. Demand Media didn’t invent the long tail. People did. And the point is that if fear weren’t the governing factor of life inside our new media industry today we might have stepped outside by now to discover this highly imaginative, highly responsive, highly personal, colorful, brave new world. Instead we send robots.

Brave new world, indeed. One Huxley might recognize.

There will be a final conflict and the people will prevail.

Television: the Once and Future King?

October 12, 2010 § Leave a comment

Thank goodness Joe Marchese spotted the Economist piece, “The Return of Advertising: The Box Rocks”, on which he opined in his Online Spin column today, “Why television is Still King.” Per The Economist, advertising is leading an economic recovery driven by the resurgence of the 30-second commercial on TV. Per Joe Marchese’s Spin column, great, but The Economist also notes that, “Search engines and online banners are not nearly so good at making people aware of new products. Nor do they offer emotional experiences. Television’s ability to build brands by surrounding adverts with gripping content is unsurpassed.”

Writes Joe:

“…the differentiator is that television has created a system for delivering advertising in a way that fits with the medium and engages consumers, giving advertisements the ability to create discovery and tell stories. The Internet has the potential to offer marketers the same ability, but simply needs a better system than banners and search.”

I think Joe has it right in the first (two) parts and wrong in the third. Yes, the differentiator is that television created a system that fits with the medium and engages consumers. Yes, the internet has the potential to offer marketers the same ability (on which Joe has written eloquently for years). But, no, a system apart from banners or search is not required.

Indeed, look at search. Granted, search does not tell a lot of stories. But, man, is Google rich. Why? Well, its paid search business, inclusive of its substantial ad network, has done a good job of using the medium in a way that fits with the medium. The thing people need to do regularly online is search for stuff. Bingo, paid search!

The thing people need to do after searching for stuff is engage with what they came searching for. Bingo, display advertising. Except, that display can’t stop waving its arms and popping-up to shout, “Look at me! Look at me!” Display is dedicated to the proposition that it must be the center of attention, which is an attitude it picked-up from – you guessed it – television (okay, also radio).

There is nothing wrong with display. There is everything wrong with advertising expectations. And when the internet stops trying to be something it’s not (television), it can get on with fitting-in.

See also, here, here, here and, perhaps also, here.

Before the Internet Works on Its Creative Problem, Advertising Needs to Work on Its Confidence Problem

September 28, 2010 § Leave a comment

It is Advertising Week in New York and the agenda for members of the online advertising community is “branding” and “creative.” In his report for Adweek, veteran new media observer Brian Morrissey writes:

“As the advertising world descends on Manhattan this week for Advertising Week, the watchword for most is digital. Yet despite the lip service paid that the future of the industry is written in bits and bytes, the Internet after 15-plus years has still not proven itself as a branding medium.”

And he quotes IAB CEO, Randall Rothenberg, who says,

“We need to concede that going back 15 years, without meaning to or thinking about it, we fundamentally created the medium to be a direct-response medium.”

As leader of the internet’s trade association, Randall Rothenberg has been fabulously effective at confronting its demons and moving the industry forward. But, “without meaning to or thinking about it” is only partly true in regards to the 15 year drift away from brand and into direct response-dom. Yes, we didn’t mean to and we didn’t think about it, but 15 years ago we were positive nonetheless: advertising was broken and online was going to “fix” it. The difference between brand and direct response didn’t enter into it. Advertising, period, was a tired business and its heroes, the brand strategists and creatives, were to become relics of a by-gone age. Relics, purged by the New Media classes.

In his article, Brian Morrissey quotes Jeff Levick, President of Global Advertising and Strategy at Aol, which is stepping-up as a champion of today’s creative online initiative. Says Jeff:

“If we really want to fix brand advertising online, we have to go directly to the creative community. We have to understand the limitations of today’s unit that drives them crazy.”

I don’t know what drives the creative community crazy these days. I do know there was always plenty to drive them crazy in the past: the limitations of print and 30-second spots, Account Executives, outdoor billboards, bus shelters, packaging, copy testing, focus groups and budgets among a few. Every time I drive past a highway billboard at 70 miles an hour, however, I marvel at how creative and branding manages to break through the limitations of a cruel commercial world.

But, yes, time to fight back and push back on the creative envelope. Let it happen. Absolutely, positively, overnight. More and better and bigger if required. Get behind it and push. Stand in front and salute. It may be a cruel commercial world, but nothing helps makes it a little brighter than great creative.

But let’s be clear, advertising creative is not the problem. Advertising confidence is the problem. Believing is the problem. And, as anyone will tell you that sells for a living, before you can sell you must believe.

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