August 01, 2007

Wait A Minute

Former Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen once said, “The three most important words in the English language are ‘wait a minute.’ ”

Advertising and marketing people would be wise to take heed. There is no doubt that we are in a period of great change in the advertising world. What’s not so certain is how it’s changing or where it’s going. There’s a lot of hand-wringing and bloviating but not very much clear thinking or plain speaking.

The first thing everyone needs to do is calm down. In times of change, the people who come out on top are the ones who avoid hysteria and refuse to get stampeded by the herd mentality. Before we go spinning off into terra incognita it’s time to take a deep breath and count to ten.

By now the podcasting and blogging crowd who were at the center of the “trend of the month” club last year are probably starting to realize what a monumental waste of time and money their podcasts and blogs have been. I’m sure there have been a few successes. We all read about them. And I’m equally sure there have been tens of thousands of failures, including this one. We never read about them.

The “trend cycle” is shortening. So while podcasts and blogs have been summarily excised from every agency’s new business pitches, they have been quickly replaced by...who knows what? User generated content? One second TiVo spots? Serialized web movies? The gimmicks and jargon change so quickly it’s hard to keep track. These web-based activities are getting mighty pricey. Just wait till the bean counters do an ROI on these babies.

The most important thing you need to do, Mr. or Ms. Marketer, is to be guided by principles not trends. Trends come and go, principles don’t change. What are the principles that are guiding your advertising decisions? If you don’t know, you better figure them out and write them down. And by the way, if your principles are centered around “consumer engagement”, “360 degree touchpoints” and “brand saliency”, they’re not principles. They’re cliches..

The next thing you need to do is to stop swinging wild. One of the mistakes that advertisers are making is spreading themselves too thin. With all the new media options it is more important than ever to concentrate your efforts, not dilute them. You can’t be an efficient advertiser in every medium. Decide what you want to be and then be a good one. If you’re going to be a broadcast advertiser, be there heavily. If you’re going to be an interactive advertiser, be there heavily. Don’t be an “alibi advertiser” i.e., a little of this and a little of that so that you can show your constituencies that you’ve checked all the boxes.

The key to media success is impact. The key to impact is concentrating your resources.

Next you need to rethink your creative efforts. The creative community is trying to convince you that in an era of rapidly expanding media options you need to “reward” viewers in order to get their attention. This is code. What they’re really trying to say is that you need to entertain viewers. This is what they always say. Unfortunately, they would mostly rather be in the entertainment business (frankly, so would I.) All other things being equal, advertising that makes your point in an entertaining way is superior to advertising that doesn’t. But don’t kid yourself. Consumers rarely give you points for cleverness alone.

In fact, consumers have more than enough entertainment options. What your advertising needs to do is make a differentiating point about your product. If you’re all caught up in the vortex and excitement of change, but your advertising isn’t making a point that’s helping you sell stuff, it’s time to raise your hand and say, “wait a minute.”


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