When journalistic opinion about your industry ranges all the way from â€œthe End is Nearâ€ to â€œThe End is Here,â€ and even your leading industry journal starts publishing doomsday warnings, it may be a good time to find a new profession.
That is exactly where advertising stands today. Network television commands increasingly high premiums but offers less and less to advertisers. The Internet and video games have grown to be huge distractions without yet offering the same opportunities to reach large audiences (at $4 billion, Internet advertising is just one tenth the size of network advertising). And most disturbingly, mammoth advertisers like Procter & Gamble are beginning to divert major dollars to new forms of marketing like word of mouth. It seems as if the world of Darren, the ad executive from the sitcom Bewitched is vanishing before our eyes.
Those who are still slogging it out on the networks fall into two camps â€“Traditionalists and Entertainers. Traditionalists measure advertising by the gram. A spots value is equal to its related recall plus the incremental sales it generates. If the ad builds the brand and sells product, it is good.
Entertainers believe that making a memorable commercial builds the brand. They are not as keen about the link between the commercial and the brand, believing that if they build a good advertisement, people will come to the brand. In its newest form, pioneered by Crispin Porter, this has taken the form of ads which seek to shock or surprise the audience and generate buzz. Dominating water cooler conversation has become the gold standard for a successful ad in this school.
At this blog we are all former brand managers and were all trained to be Traditionalists. Recently, we have been bombarded with irrelevant ads that seem to have no connection whatsoever to the core brand values, from the impenetrable Burger King â€œCoq Roqâ€ spots to the mystifying American Express â€˜Andy Roddickâ€™s Mojoâ€ fiasco. And we know that these ads were developed by smart people working for smart marketers who are watching consumers just as hard as we are. This has caused us to wonder what was missing in the Traditionalist formula that seemed to be pushing so many people to the Dark Side of entertainment advertising.
The answer is obvious. And it is the same thing that makes everyone think that advertising faces imminent demise. Consumers are fed up. And sooner or later, that has to hurt someone. Do you remember when there was only one phone company? We used to pay much, much more for our phone service then. And we didnâ€™t love the phone company. But we didnâ€™t have much of a choice. So when deregulation happened, we were only too happy to flock to the Baby Bells for cheaper calls. We were not just saving money, we were finally punishing an institution that punished us.
As advertisers, we have been punishing consumers for years. We interrupt programs they enjoy with our messages. If they listen and buy our products, we assume we have done a good job. After all, they got to watch the shows they viewed our ads on for free, didnâ€™t they? So there must be a fair value exchange in the advertising, right?
Wrong. Most consumers never liked being interrupted by advertising. And they never liked most advertising. And if it worked, they resented us for it. And now the value proposition â€“ if it ever worked as we believed â€“ has changed. Most consumers pay a cable company for their TV signal, so it doesnâ€™t feel free to them. And they have many other ways to divert themselves during commercials â€“ from hundreds of other channels to the Internet and video games. Not to mention time-shifting devices like TiVo.
So where do we go as advertisers? If we donâ€™t believe that pure entertainment drives sales or builds brands, should we abandon traditional advertising?
We believe there is a Third Way. To be effective, we suggest that advertising needs to be persuasive and build the brand. But we also believe that the consumer must benefit for the time spent on the ad. And we believe that product information is not a sufficient benefit for an entertainment media. We suggest that advertisers ought to be producing spots that entertain and build the brand.
There are good examples of this. Some of the best are being created by the networks themselves. We have blogged the marvelous ads by USA Networks which are both stories in themselves but also give USA Networks a coherent theme (â€˜unique charactersâ€™) and promote individual series. These are hardworking ads that also entertain. And theyâ€™re durable â€“ you donâ€™t mind watching them again. The SciFi network has also done some extremely creative spots that link right back to the brand.
So our proposal is that advertising must now do more than sell product to remain viable â€“ it must entertain. The ad itself must be a worthy use of the consumerâ€™s time if we expect her to watch. Along the way, we might also considering moving the ad blocks to where they belong â€“ at the beginning and end of the program, and perhaps a single commercial break for 1 or 2 hour shows. Many will say that nobody would watch these ads, but we at ThirdWay have been to the cinema in the UK and seen patrons with reserved seats and published movie start times show up early in droves to watch the excellent advertising.
Art can be functional. The design world has long understood this. But in advertising we have driven a wedge between those trying to create art with advertisements and those trying to build brands. To survive, advertising must bridge the gap.