Today we are governed by informational revolutionary forces – but you wouldn't know it by the way marketing is deployed or by the lack of innovation in the advertising industry. Demand (the consumer has irrevocably changed. Supply (or the marketing and advertising of it) has not. This gap simply has to be bridged.
The problem is actually worse than the oversimplified predicament of consumers being bombarded with marketing messaging; the real problem is the fact that consumers have lost patience with the implicit mutual agreement between commercials and content.
…Marketers have long held that by beating their prospects over the head with the same mundane message, consumers will eventually submit or succumb. Of course the marketers don't explain it that way, preferring to use words like frequency or reinforcement as substitutes for bombardment or indoctrination.
According to a Knowledge Networks study released in December 2004, 47 percent of viewers switch channels when watching TV, either because a program has ended or to skip commercials. This is up from 33 percent in 1994. The last bastion of hype – Nielsen – plans to introduce minute-by-minute TV commercial ratings beginning in October 2005. Somehow I suspect this introduction will be conveniently pushed back, plagued with objections and delays, but in any case we will soon find out, at least in theory, whether the potential audience actually got to see the commercial. Or metaphorically, if the tree fell…
…did it make a sound? There are no guarantees that the message will register. The same study suggests that the proportion of viewers doing "other things such as talking, eating, reading, and using the Internet while watching prime-time TV has increased from 67 percent in 1994 to 75 percent.
Adult evening viewers able to name a brand or product advertised in show just seen: no prompt.
In a Lightspeed Research survey, only 31 percent of respondents said network news was their primary news source, compared with 36 percent last year. Among 18 to 34-year olds, the decline hit double digits, with a 10 percent drop within the past 12 months.
In 1998, an estimated 76 million people tuned in to the final episode of Seinfeld, which represented 58 percent of in use televisions, according to Nielsen Media Research. This may sound impressive; however, it was significantly less than the 77 percent share, or 105 million viewers, garnered by M*A*S*H in its final airing in 1983.
Not many (if any) shows have been able to own the corporate watercooler like Seinfeld did. Even so, six years after Jerry and company were mysteriously left in a jail, six familiar Friends bid us farewell, but only 51 million viewers tuned in to say adieu. In the 15 years between the M*A*S*H finale and that of Seinfeld, the share of households watching dropped 19 percent, and another 15 percent from Seinfeld to Friends, so that's 34 percent in 21 years…Worried yet?
…you'll need to figure out a way to deliver more for less in a world where consumers hold that less is more.
Figure 5.1 offers a perspective and I hope debunks any illusions that cable is the uber-solution to advertising's current problems. The bars on the left represent consumers spending more time with the respective medium compared to 12 months ago. The bars on the right reflect less time being spent compared to 12 months ago. The chart is a good gauge of both the consumption shifts taking place as well as their magnitude.
A fundamental flaw of old marketing is that we assume ("ass out of "u and "me) we're talking to people in the right place at the right time, but in reality this is just not true. Similarly, expecting someone to log on to a web site, jog in to a store, scroll through a catalog, or execute any kind of action on our command is borderline derisory.
Consumers will choose to do business with you on their terms, and the best you can do is to make it incredibly easy for them to do so by offering them a multitude of means to arrive at the desired end.
My belief – and it's one basket in which I'm confident enough to arrange a good chunk of my eggs – is that community is the ultimate killer app. The success stories of both today and tomorrow pivot around a dynamic energy that comes from the ability to tap into, harness, and maximize the power of community.
Community is the only real economy of scale in today's brave new world. It's the next iteration of the legendary watercooler effect.
And then there's the DVR, which one in five advertising industry executives believes will be responsible for the death of the 30-second. With 54.3 percent of consumers from an In-Stat/MDR survey indicating they skip 75 to 100 percent of commercials and 82.8 percent of those intending to purchase a DVR, expressly admitting that they intend to skip commercials, it is plain to see the DVR as both an additive stress and surely the final straw that will break the camel's back.
Four forces – broadband, wireless, search, and networked consumers – are accelerating the rate of change that is brewing the perfect storm. As the center of this storm is a most powerful eye. What used to be a collection of faceless eyeballs, blended into an anonymous audience, is now the glaring eye of the empowered consumer, who pulls at will and pushes as aside irrelevance and unnecessary clutter and noise. The consumer calls the shots, and the marketers are being shot down – left, right, and center – like sitting ducks.
The 30-second spot is on the losing end of the efficiency battle. Priced on the potential to get in front of a relatively targeted audience (think Always on Everybody Loves Raymond or Fixodent on CBS Nightly News) that is likely to leave the room, change the channel, tune out, or multitask, it can hardly be intelligently argued that this former powerhouse is delivering either reach or composition efficiently or effectively – especially when the consumer is likely to remember just two commercials and one brand per night. Sounds more like a game of Russian roulette to me. Frequency has become the miserable excuse compensating for the lack of effectiveness, and the bombardment of impressions seems to be the only hope to force home an otherwise contrived and underwhelming message.
Let's summarize: It's become damn near impossible to break through the clutter; creativity sucks; consumers have wised up and waste is egregious. Television – largely led by the networks but certainly not limited to them – is in a vicious downward spiral. Advertising, the parasite that owes much of its existence to its host, television, is close to the bottom of the barrel in terms of its quality, credibility, and even efficacy. Oh, and one more thing: The consumer doesn't care.
DVRs such as TiVo have begun to transform. "Prime Time into "My Time. Consumers have tapped into the time-shifting properties that allow appointment viewing to become truly on-demand viewing. Even valuable (meaning "targeted) ads are now, in effect, irrelevant (because they're never seen). Radio has seen the advent of satellite options (XM, Sirius) that offer consumers commercial-free experiences. The heretofore captive audience of drive time has been liberated.
The old consumer was an easy target at whom the corporate marketers of America could aim and push all and sundry. The new consumer, however, is a mobile media maven who pulls required content from a variety of resources in a virtual multi-tasking frenzy.
In less than one generation, the entire balance of power seems to have shifted from marketer to consumer. No longer does a marketer tell consumers what they should buy, where they should buy it, or how they should buy it. Rather, it is the consumer who dictates terms and conditions to the marketer.
Today's intelligent consumers have built-in authenticity meters to help them navigate between genuine and hyped communications, offers, and promotions. The converse is equally true: A really great initiative, web site, campaign, or community will spread like wildfire when a connection is made between sender and receiver.
The perfect antidote to skepticism is trust, and the perfect antecedents of trust are reliability, dependability, and consistency. Smells like a brand to me – or at least what a brand ought to be.
It is both naïve and downright foolish to expect customers to stay loyal for the duration of their natural lives – certainly not with so much choice, the proliferation of substitutes, and the competitive parity that exist today.
Today, marketing departments have been stripped of their clout by other departments that have seized the initiative. Responsibility for pricing, distribution, and customer service is no longer the domain of the marketing department. Even the process of evaluating and selecting an advertising agency has become a purchasing line item. Marketing has become a joke. It is therefore not surprising that an October 2004 study by the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) and management consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton found – among other frightening insights – that the corporate marketing function is not aligned with the CEO's agenda.
Consider the Neistat brothers. Casey and Van are two ordinary brothers who made an extraordinary impact by expressing their disgruntlement with a brand that, quite frankly, had set itself up by virtue of its own high standards (perceived or otherwise).
In Casey's words:
In September of 2003 the battery in my first generation iPod would hold a charge for no longer than one hour. I brought the iPod into the Apple store in Manhattan for repair and was told they did not currently offer a battery replacement program and my best option was to buy a new iPod. I then called the Apple Care 800 number regarding this issue and was told the same. I then sent my iPod to the Executive office addressed to Steve Jobs with a note explaining my situation and requesting a replacement battery. The Apple Executive office contacted me via telephone to explain that Apple does not repair or replace dead iPod batteries and that is was policy of the company to recommend to the customer to purchase a new iPod when the battery fails. I then looked into and purchased a third party replacement battery, which was not endorsed by Apple. After the complicate installation, my iPod did not work at all, even when plugged in.
In response to this experience my brother Van and I made the short film "iPod's Dirty Secret. After we finished production of the film, Apple began offering a battery replacement program for the ipod for a fee of $99 and an extended warranty for the ipod for $59.
We acknowledge Apple's new battery replacement policy. Our movie is a documentation of our experience.
The short film has now been seen by more than 1.2 million consumers – and that's a conservative minimum based on the Neistats' counter on their web site.
1. If you thought telling a story in 30 seconds was hard, try 3 seconds.
2. Messaging will have to change to get a foot in the door.
3. Advertisers may have to start advertising their advertising.
4. Consumers will continue to abandon network providers and the quality of content will continue to deteriorate, leading more consumers to flee, which in turn will result in further content decay, continuing in a downward spiral.
5. Abuse of product placement will continue (and get worse).
Predicting the future is a foolhardy venture, especially in an arena where much technology and legislation is still to be revealed. Six years ago the words, iPod, Google, and TiVo did not exist. Today they are part of the mainstream vernacular – profoundly changing the music, Internet, and television landscape.
Google, TiVo, and iPod empower the end user to retrieve, navigate and manipulate content, and to do so in ways that are aligned with his or her passions and interests.
3. Conquer navigation, conquer the world: As more and more content becomes accessible on demand, navigating through it becomes more challenging. While search engines provide one path through the content jungles, there are other surprising compasses. Advertising, done well and targeted keenly, can point the way. Brands are a highly effective navigation tool. Word of mouth may be the supreme, eternal navigational tool, leading a consumer quickly to pre-endorsed content locations.
4. The rise of relevance and fall of exposure: People don't want to be interrupted with irrelevant content. Blasting messages in consumer-controlled environments doesn't work now, and it won't work in 2008. The only brands getting through will be the ones whose makers figure out the engagement factor.
I'm not sure that conventional television is capable of responding to the impact of long-form content because of its currently entrenched content and commercial programming legacy system.
That's not to say that they will be hapless hitchhikers on the Autobahn of change. Indeed, the extent to which they are able to integrate their Web personas, play nice with the DVR and cable companies, and for the most part subscribe or concede to the paradigm of consumer control and empowerment will determine how well they survive and eve thrive.
In this vision of the future, communities of consumers will rely on their connections to one another to enhance their lives, often by circumventing – and therefore at the expense of – the notoriously slow and stubborn marketing community.
Professor Chrysanthos Dellarocas, of MIT, put out a white paper that measured the economic impact of companies that pay employees or others to seed message boards with comments that are favorable to company products (iMediaconnection.com, November 24, 2004). The research showed that there was some first-mover advantage associated with "conning the masses, but ultimately, as me-too's jump on the bandwagon, the clutter, lack of authenticity, and suspect motives behind the posts replace any short-term economic gain with inevitable losses.
Remember banners? The just sat there or, if they were really cutting-edge, blinked. And naturally, once the novelty wore off, the much vaunted click-through rates dropped like a dead turkey from a helicopter. So now everyone's trying to figure out ways to get you to notice them again. I can hear the meeting. "Can we make it float across the screen? Can we make it bounce? Can we make it float and then bounce? Well here's reality. You can make your pop-up float bounce, take its pants off, and sing "Who Let the Dogs Out. All you're doing is annoying people.