Saturday, March 31, 2007

Do TV Execs Really Understand? We'll Tell You After This Commercial Break

On the same day earlier this week, two media behemoths announced their thoughts as to how the changing face of content delivery should be handled.

First came ABC. While speaking before an audience of advertising agency representatives and media buyers, ABC Television Executive Mike Shaw took it upon himself to become another lightning rod for out of touch old-media philosophy. Rather than devising feasible solutions for what is a completely different communicative world, Shaw spent his time finger-pointing at DVR technology and encouraging his audience to help work to stop the ad-skipping and time-shifting capability of these devices embraced by millions of television viewers.

Shaw’s stance is beyond ludicrous—it is a waste of breath. Rather than burning energy lamenting that what is past is gone, those who succeed listen, observe, and find ways to leverage changes and advances to create new opportunities that are mutually beneficial.

Case in point. Later in the week, NBC Universal (Universal Pictures, NBC Television, MSN, AOL, Yahoo, etc.) and News Corp. (owner of MySpace and Fox Television) made a very different announcement. They have partnered together to create what they hope is an advertiser-friendly web presence that allows visitors to view their programs online. Many are calling this a YouTube killer, but that description is only accurate in that they both house staggering supplies of online video content. YouTube is designed for user-created content, while this new offering will focus on the same material currently available on the participating television network’s prime time schedules.

The NBC Universal/News Corp plan not only creates new advertising inventory, it gives the content consumer the entertainment they want, when they want it, on whatever screen they’d like. Since it’s streaming, ads will be inserted in the programming. Eventually, these ads could easily be served based upon the viewer’s opt-in choices for what advertising they’d like to see.

First of all, the initial idea and structure here seems solid, but only if they choose to evolve rather than recreate. It gives the consumer the platform they have been asking for—the access to the shows they want whenever they want to watch them. However, the idea is still an interruptive approach and little more than a new spin on the same old ad model. At least they’re trying. Sort of.

Television networks really don’t have a choice. Their responsibility and sole purpose is simply to deliver an audience to the advertisers. The shows they choose, the news they cover, the sports contracts they sign—the only real reason is to put eyeballs in front of ads. So, as more and more advertisers shift dollars away from dwindling television audiences and towards the web, the networks have little choice but to change.

There’s room for a couple of interesting advancements here.

First, they could continue their partnership with Apple to offer the commercial-free versions of programs for sale via iTunes (AppleTV could supplant DVR if they are involved in the streaming of the free versions (with commercials) as well) to those viewers who choose to view the shows commercial-free. It’s direct-purchase television. Watch a great episode of 30 Rock and then choose to download it advertising-free for $1 or $2. If I liked it enough to want to watch at my leisure, it's well worth the cash to keep the episode on hand.

Second, the audience could drive more creative advertising strategies. There are so many better ways to attract and engage an audience around your product than by interrupting the story their being told. My hope is that this new online destination isn’t setting out to simply deliver 30-second television commercials to computer screens. Use those budgets instead to innovate. There is so much more possibility than just rehashing the same old ads. Foster interaction. Allow participation. Encourage opinions.

Time will tell if either of these announcements are really saying the same thing or if they are just different attempts to hold on to the way things have always been. My money is on more of the same.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Just a quick rant about mobile marketing.

This goes out to all of my industry peers out there who want the secret answer for figuring out how to use mobile marketing. I'll officially let the secret spill.

It doesn’t matter.

You’re wasting your time and your clients' money developing it and hypothesizing about it. Stop wasting your time talking about it. Finding new ways to intrude and irritate on the last vestige of privacy won’t succeed in the direction anyone is currently pursuing. Phones are more and more relevant and marketing aimed at reaching people using them is less and less viable.

Why not? Because though cell phone users have reached critical mass, even those whose phones are capable of accessing the web currently choose not to. Only 5% of those who are capable access online content. This is because what is available to access isn’t worth the trouble. All of this will change quickly, however, because the number of people using Smartphones will dramatically increase in the coming months. As this happens, led by the launch of the Apple iPhone with an integrated full-scale web browser (all websites will be viewable as-is), mobile becomes the same as online.

It makes it pretty easy. All you have to worry about is creating engaging content and maybe adjusting some usability to work on small touchscreens such as the Treo and the iPhone rather than through full-sized keyboard/mouse setups. In a matter on months, the integration of content will be to the point where all the content we access, and the advertising messages that surround it, will be the same regardless of which screen (television, computer, phone) you’re enjoying it from and the conversation will stop being about one medium versus another. It will be about what it should always be about—creating great experiences for those who want to learn more about a product or service.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Communication Break-ups

Day after day they clutter my inbox. Article after article, newsletter after newsletter, full of complaints and commiserations about the changing status of the marketing industry. Questions are asked. Issues are raised. Problems are pointed out. Derivative sentiments are shared about changing ad models. And yet, the only solutions offered are restatements of what is already broken and attempts to do the same old things on a different kind of screen. The truth is that none of these efforts are relevant because they aren’t even addressing the right issue. The entire philosophy is backwards.

Marketing is communication. That is all. It’s not all that complicated. It’s relationship building, and just like any healthy relationship, this effort is a two-way initiative. It’s built on trust and respect. As any husband will attest, telling your wife what to do or how to think will not only fail miserably to produce the results you’re aiming for, it will most likely end with her telling her girlfriends (and perhaps next husband) all sorts of horrible things about you and your ridiculous lack of tact. What about the relationship a consumer has with the faceless corporation that makes the car they drive or the soap they use would lead marketers to believe that they can get away with such callous behavior when even those engaged in holy matrimony wouldn’t dare?

Communication, to a consumer or to a spouse, is not about telling, it’s about connecting. You have to be honest, you have to be authentic, you have to listen, you have to care, and you have to mean it. You have no right, and no real power, to control. The best you can do is behave in line with the expectations you’ve created.

Stop being selfish. Marketing is not about what you want to tell people or what you want to convince them. It’s about what people want to know to make up their own mind.

Monday, March 5, 2007


With early news this morning that overseas markets will send the NYSE into another week of chaos (thus proving the world is, indeed, flat), it seems only right that I'm sitting right in the heart of the Financial District as the opening bell rings. Thankfully, my day won't be spent making sense of that madness, instead, it will be spent conjuring up visions of the future of marketing and its inextricable link to human interaction.

Today, I'm going to get to know some of the other leaders in this ever-changing industry at the Future Marketing Summit in New York City.

Don't worry, I'll let you know what I think.