Give Me a Break

May 25, 2011 § Leave a comment

Summer is in the air at Burst—and it’s not just because Memorial Day weekend is upon us.

We’ve just released our third consecutive summer-themed Online Insights covering travel and vacation plans. Earlier this month, more than 3,700 online respondents told us of their plans for the summer season. We learned some interesting things.

One-half of all respondents say they’re taking a vacation or personal trip this summer, and 30.7% say they’ll be taking more time off this year versus last. One-third of travelers taking more vacations/trips this year plan to do so because they “just need a break,” and women more so than men feel this way: 39.9% versus 31.4%. The gender divide manifests itself most clearly in the 35-44 years segment, where a majority of women (54.5%) this age cites “a break” as a reason for vacationing more, compared to just 30.0% of men.

Other reasons vacationers are taking more trips this summer include having more time to take off (26.3%), stronger personal/family finances (19.0%) and the need to make up for not taking enough time last year (15.0%).

Conversely, of respondents who are taking fewer vacations this year, economic reasons (44.1%), personal/family finances (34.5%) and busy schedules (27.9%) top this list. Interestingly, men outpace women (35.2% versus 16.0%) with feeling “too busy” this summer.

But everybody deserves a break, right?

One-third of all respondents plan to take a “staycation” this summer—a vacation where they stay at home rather than travel. Interestingly, 50.4% of respondents who say they are not planning to take a vacation or personal trip this summer do say they will take a “staycation.”

Saving money (43.7%) is the leading reason for “staycations” among all respondents—but other reasons include catching up on house/home projects (25.6%), family activities/obligations (17.8%) and plans to visit local attractions or engage in local activities (16.1%).

One-half of all respondents also say gas prices will impact their summer vacation plans to some extent. The traditional family vacation may be one victim of fuel prices, as 34.9% of respondents with three or more people in the household (i.e., families with children at home) say the cost of gas will definitely impact their plans, versus 26.5% of households with one or two people.

Be sure to check out Online Insights and grab your copy of the full report. Here’s to a happy and healthy summer!

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.

Tom Hinkes Lands a Few Punches for the Importance of Marketing Intuition

March 19, 2010 § Leave a comment

It’s always a contest between data and intuition. In the “CMO Strategy” corner at Ad Age today Tom Hinkes lands many blows for the power and importance of intuition.

First with the right:

“Marketers with the ability to identify an unmet consumer need, develop a product to meet it, create a brand, and then lead it to market dominance are missing. Product managers with a fear of ambiguity have replaced the creative, forward-thinking brand builders.”

Then with the left:

“The quantitative “MBA aspects” of brand management are vitally important. Ignoring the numbers and just “going with our gut” can be an even worse sin, and result in … frankly, almost every one of this year’s Super Bowl spots. But the pendulum has clearly swung too far. The result is today’s brand manager who (paraphrasing David Ogilvy) uses data, “the way a drunk man uses a lamp post, for support rather than illumination.”

Then, pow, right in the kisser:
“Great brand marketers are comfortable with ambiguity. They realize marketing is a balancing act — it’s numbers and detail, but it’s also flair and vision. It’s qualitative and quantitative; analysis and intuition; perspiration and inspiration. Great marketing requires the balance of both sides of the brain. But the balance has been lost.”
 
Quite. Enough upper cuts to the head will do that to the balance. Here’s hoping that marketing is fighting back.

Bring back 15% agency commission, Redux

February 26, 2010 § Leave a comment

Of all the posts made in this space over the past year none has garnered more interest – leastwise, page views – than the one that proposed a return to 15% ad agency commissions on media spending. It has had many companion pieces over the year (this one, this one, or this one, for instance), but there it was again today, as it was yesterday, as it was the day before, the second most viewed post in the catalogue of Top Posts & Pages on the Burst Blog.

The American Association of Advertising Agencies (AAAA) will convene its “Transformation 2010″ conference in San Francisco this Sunday, combining their annual Media and Leadership conferences into a single event attracting agency Heads-of-State from across the country. In anticipation, as an open letter of sorts, here again (below, with minor edits) is the entreaty that was made nearly one year ago, exactly, to fix agency compensation.

* * * * *

March 16, 2009

Bring Back 15% Agency Compensation

Another conversation over lunch today with a long-time media industry executive who was full of enthusiasm for a  media planning spin-out currently incubating inside his ad agency. He brought with him more data supporting the fact that TV and newspapers get a disproportionate amount of the ad dollars relative to audience penetration. He hopes that his company’s solution will offer more media planning neutrality to repair some of that dis-proportionality and help truly engage consumers. A great idea.

So, I launched into my current riff that media planning, as it stands, can’t afford to be neutral. Fees currently paid to media planning and buying companies cannot sustain deep dives into new media – notably the Internet -  even though it is well-known and documented that that’s where the people are. My friend acknowledges that the costs of buying online are 3x – 5x the costs of buying TV or print. “A page in the Wall Street Journal!” he exclaims, “Cheap to buy. Very profitable.” Is it any wonder to us that newspapers still enjoy a greater share of overall ad dollars than the Internet?

I was impolite enough to ask how his new media enterprise will get paid for its work. “Well,” he said, “Agency commission, of course, is dead. We work on hourly rates.”

Rats. This is our problem. Fees and hourly rates. It means new media is not cost-effective to plan and buy. There’s too much of it. The consequence is that traditional media forms such as TV and newspapers continue to enjoy allocations that exceed their value in today’s multi-layered information marketplace. The consequence is also that online display advertising continues to huddle around a handful of larger, branded properties – something like 70% of ad dollars on the top 10 web properties is still the reported norm. There is not the financial incentive or capacity to venture deeper: We know the oil is there, but we can’t afford to drill for it.

We can fix the problem by spending more online and leveraging existing cost structures. This should be our first choice. But while I, personally, don’t think it’s fraught with too much peril, clients may disagree who want POVs and appropriate metrics assigned to every new possibility. Alternatively, we can fix agency comp.

“What do you suggest,” my friend asked?

“A return to 15% agency commission,” I answered. Let’s face it, the oil-drillers online are getting paid substantially higher rates than 15% arbitraging – i.e. planning and buying – media budgets. And, it’s not transparent. Restoring agency commission in a new media world restores an important degree of accountability in a process that is currently rewarding older, shrinking media platforms, and undermining growing media platforms.

“Good luck,” said my friend, in a tone that meant, “That’ll be the day.”

Yes, well, but the alternative is to side with those who say the days of ad agencies are over - that they are relics of an old media age along with old media. 

Is that why media continues to be allocated disproportionately to traditional media? Because agencies see newspapers and TV as extensions of themselves and feel duty-bound to save them? Do we think twenty-five year-old media planners who don’t know much of life before Yahoo!, and grew-up on Facebook and MySpace are determined to save newspapers and television? Do we?

No. I don’t think so. We need to fix ad agency compensation.

Ad Age Editor, Jonah Bloom, places his hand on the third rail of procurement

November 13, 2009 § Leave a comment

You have to respect any editor that wades into a controversy up to his hips in front of an audience that may be hostile. Hats off to Jonah Bloom, Editor of Ad Age, for raising the possibility that the role of procurement has gone too far in grinding down ad agency compensation in front of the Association of National Advertisers’ (ANA) Annual meeting in Phoenix this week (see link below).

Of course, the audience might not be as hostile as one thinks. It is, after all, composed mostly of the Chief Marketing Officers and other marketing executives at the country’s leading brand marketers, and the attrition of trust and resources over the past 20 years has affected them, particularly.

I won’t bother to look it up right now for it is known generally anyway: the average tenure of a CMO today is – well – stupid short. I imagine, in fact, that if the video had panned the audience during Jonah’s remarks, you might have seen many a tough marketing man or woman discreetly dabbing away the tears of emotion and relief.

It’s okay, everybody. Let it out. It’s time.

http://link.brightcove.com/services/link/bcpid1370868150/bctid50051848001

It’s just business. Or, is it?

October 6, 2009 § Leave a comment

Advertising Age reports on the game of musical chairs that has been taking place over the past 18 months among the top media buying agencies. According to the report, 10 of the top 14 companies in the space have swapped-out their CEO.

This is what comes of living in the real world. It wasn’t always thus for ad agencies. Before the era of leveraged buy-outs made consolidation possible, ad agencies were private companies owned by partners living in places like Connecticut. Now, they are public companies, most of them, and when times get tough the tough re-arrange the deck chairs.

Whither client relationships in all of this? I liked Phil Cowdell’s reported statement to boss Scott Neslund that he would only take-over Mindshare’s North American operations if he could do so as an “old-fashioned client man.” But what does that mean today? Do relationships matter? Matt Seiler at Universal McCann reportedly thinks it’s more complicated than that.

Maybe so, because the clients themselves, perhaps taking their cue from the itinerant nature of things on the agency side, are as prone to sweep the decks by changing one agency for another in costly account reviews.

Is it the business or is it simply business that has the agency world doing so much deck chair re-arranging? Is it the complex realities of the new media world, or the realities of the world, period? What problem is getting fixed by all these changes? Performance problems? In which case it’s being argued that among the top 14 companies in the media planning and buying industry 70% of the leadership was - well – not right for the times.

Really? Recessions have always taken their toll on the advertising and media business. Technology, on the other hand, while disruptive, has done nothing but help. Radio? Television? Very disruptive, but they helped make multi-millionaires out of the leading agency executives of the time.

Adaptation can be brutal. We are a full fifteen years into this Internet thing, however, and the conversation is still about how to make it work, meaning there is no evidence that adaptation is occurring at a faster rate today versus the past. Indeed, the IAB’s report on Internet spending for the first half of this year issued last week with Price Waterhouse Coopers indicates nearly 90% of media spending still occurs on the top 50 web properties.

How complicated is that? But, maybe, that’s the point of so much change at major buying companies. No more skimming the surface of the new media opportunity and hanging around the shallow end. Time to wade deep and really connect with the possibilities – starting at the top.

It which case, maybe the 70% overhaul leads somewhere. But, only if you believe it’s about the business, and not just about business.

Bring back 15% agency commission.

March 16, 2009 § Leave a comment

Another conversation over lunch today with a long-time media industry executive who was full of enthusiasm for a  media planning spin-out currently incubating inside his ad agency. He brought with him more data supporting the fact that TV and newspapers get a disproportionate amount of the ad dollars relative to audience penetration. He hopes that his company’s solution will offer more media planning neutrality to repair some of that dis-proportionality and help truly engage consumers. A great idea.

So, I launched into my current riff that media planning, as it stands, can’t afford to be neutral. Fees currently paid to media planning and buying companies cannot sustain deep dives into new media – notably the Internet -  even though it is well-known and documented that that’s where the people are. My friend acknowledges that the costs of buying online are 3x – 5x the costs of buying TV or print. “A page in the Wall Street Journal!” he exclaims, “Cheap to buy. Very profitable.” Is it any wonder to us that newspapers still enjoy a greater share of overall ad dollars than the Internet?

I was impolite enough to ask how his new media enterprise will get paid for its work. “Well,” he said, “Agency commission, of course, is dead. We work on hourly rates.”

Rats. This is our problem. Fees and hourly rates. It means new media is not cost effective to plan and buy. There’s too much of it. The consequence is that traditional media forms such as TV and newspapers continue to enjoy allocations that exceed their value in today’s multi-layered information marketplace. The consequence is also that online display advertising continues to huddle around a handful of larger, branded properties – something like 70% of ad dollars on the top 10 web properties is still the reported norm. There is not the financial incentive or capacity to venture deeper: We know the oil is there, but we can’t afford to drill for it.

We can fix the problem by spending more online and leveraging existing cost structures. This should be our first choice. But while I, personally, don’t think it’s fraught with too much peril, clients may disagree who want POVs and appropriate metrics assigned to every new possibility. Alternatively, we can fix agency comp.

“What do you suggest,” my friend asked?

“A return to 15% agency commission,” I answered. Let’s face it, the oil-drillers online are getting paid substantially higher rates than 15% arbitraging – i.e. planning and buying – media budgets. And, it’s not transparent. Restoring agency commission in a new media world restores an important degree of accountability in a process that is currently rewarding older, shrinking media platforms, and undermining growing media platforms.

“Good luck,” said my friend, in a tone that meant, “That’ll be the day.”

Yes, well, but the alternative is to side with those who say the days of ad agencies are over - that they are relics of an old media age along with old media. 

So, is this why media continues to be allocated disproportionately to traditional media? Because agencies see newspapers and TV as extensions of themselves and are bound to save them? Do we think twenty-five year-old media planners who don’t know much of life before Yahoo!, and grew-up on Facebook and MySpace are determined to save newspapers and television? Do we?

No. I don’t think so. Fix comp.

Who’s for fighting?

March 10, 2009 § Leave a comment

I spent two and a half days at the 4As Media Conference in New Orleans and I’m trying to think how to summarize the event. For help I’ve wandered over to AdAge.com and checked the other usual industry news sources and, well, there’s nothing much being said. MediaPost has a report about the Social Networking panel. Jonah Bloom, Editor of Ad Age, wraps-up with a 3 minute Ad Age video that reports everyone who attended the Media Conference was anxious. The pervasive mood of the place was gloomy. Business is tough.

The mood came across while I was there. But, I’m trying to think of what happened at the event that tells me what, as an industry, we’re working on now that it’s over. No one seems to have much to say about that today.

What are we working on? Nothing about that anywhere, including the 4A’s web site, where I could find nary a scratch on the conference. The event itself has been purged from the list of events. It’s like it didn’t happen. If you dig around you can find a summary of last year’s conference, so perhaps this year’s summary is on its way.

I recall that Marc Goldstein, North American CEO of GroupM, told attendees that we must have hope. And, beyond that, he said we must take stock in our creative energy and ability to solve customers problems in new and important ways. He gave three pretty good examples of the sort of creative power he was talking about. Marc was clear, though, there are no easy answers and – worse – there is no one right now likely to lead us out of our problems. The advertising world does not have its version of Barack Obama to tell us, Yes We Can. Still, he points out, we must.

The wrap-up to the session on Friday featured a panel of principals from four leading media buying companies. Maria Luisa Francoli, global CEO of MPG, Irwin Gottlieb, global CEO of GroupM, Page Thompson, North American CEO of Omnicom and Jerry Buhlman, CEO of Aegis came on last to deliver the unvarnished view from the top. As it turns out, the unvarnished view from the top looks like it does from the bottom - i.e. more for less is required. More accountability, more measure-ability, more affordability. The view hasn’t really changed much since the economy was growing hand over wallet. Row harder. The Procurement Officer wants to go water skiing.

So, now what? Who was it that said we must endeavour to persevere? It wasn’t someone with a business plan. Media planners and buyers have been endeavouring furiously, nights and weekends, with tighter deadlines, less access to the strategic and creative vision of their clients and thanks to cable, satellite and the Internet more access to more media choices more beneficial to their customers than ever before. Under the circumstances, greater perseverance will lead them, and us, no where.

Only citizenry besieged by rockets from the sky can be called upon to persevere and, then, only if they know that someone, somewhere is fighting for them. And I don’t know…it’s awfully quiet out there.

Who’s for fighting?

I Love You, Man.

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.

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