April 08, 2009

The Thing That Will Change Everything

Marketing and advertising people always overestimate the impact of new things and always underestimate the power of traditional consumer behavior.

Memorize that sentence.

My first experience with this phenomenon came with the advent of cable TV. When it was first introduced there was a flood of hysteria in the ad world about how cable would "change everything." Clients were going around to agencies looking for agencies that "really understood" cable. What was there to really understand? The signal came through a wire, not the air. Yeah, so?

Then the VCR was going to change everything. People were no longer going to watch live TV. They would tape their favorite shows and play them back at their convenience (sound familiar?) And worst of all, they would fast forward through the commercials (sound familiar?) Naturally, hysteria ensued.

Then the computer was going to change everything. Agencies would be able to produce TV spots right on their desktops. And then agencies would disappear because clients could create spots right on their desktops.

Then the web was going to change everything. Brick and mortar stores were dead. We were all going to buy our cat food and our batteries on line.

Then all of retail was going to be dead. The web was going to create "disintermediation" which meant we would buy all our goods on line directly from the manufacturer, and there would no longer be a need for distributors or retailers.

Then ten years ago there was TiVo which, of course, was going to change everything. And we all know that story.

Why are marketers and ad people so hysterically attached to the belief that the next flavor-of-the-month will change everything? A few reasons:
1. We have an image of ourselves as visionaries. The more that advertising has embraced "branding" in lieu of "selling" as its primary purpose, the more mysterious and abstruse the art of marketing has become. Consequently, we marketing and advertising professionals have talked ourselves into believing that we have unusual powers of insight into human behavior. This, we believe, allows us to foresee the future with great clarity.

2. We love new things and hate old things. Just look at the advertising we create.
  • People over the age of 50 control 77% of the wealth of this country. Please show me one Super Bowl ad this year that was directed at them.
  • The average American buys 13 cars in his lifetime -- 8 of them after the age of 50. When is the last time you saw an old person in a car ad?
3. Advertising and marketing people are the early adopters of just about everything. Being ahead of the curve is our badge of honor. Marketing has changed from finding an insight and communicating it, to finding the next trend and pouncing on it. Jumping on a bandwagon is so much less taxing than thinking.

4. Nobody ever made a nickel predicting that things would stay pretty much the same.
Well, my friends, now there is -- ta-da -- social media. And, guess what? Social media is going to change everything!

Or will it? We'll see tomorrow in our next exciting adventure, "The Emperor's New Podcast"

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