Mutual of Omaha's Wild Media
In my post yesterday, I mentioned that the writers' strike would give corporations an opportunity to explore alternative advertising approaches. A friend of mine responded to my post wondering if we were going to see a return to "the days of 'Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom'?" Certainly looks that will be one of the models. This article from The Hollywood Reporter article mentions Johnson & Johnson funding an after-school type program for its Accuvue brand. I think you'll see a lot of brands funding entertainment content that is directly targeted to their core audience.
Ultimately, from an entertainment perspective, you can envision a world in which all content is available on-demand (you know, like it is on the Internet), supported by a brief advertisement like this (or something similar). I would hope this has all of the interested parties - the networks, movie studios, and cable providers, to name a few - shaking in their boots and looking for a way to participate in the obvious future, rather than impersonating an ostrich and sticking their head in the ground like the music moguls.
Isn't it inevitable that the television simply becomes akin to an all-you-can eat buffet, pulling content from a million sources, rather than a pre-set menu prepared by the mediocre chefs at NBC Universal, Viacom, and Disney and delivered to your table by those ill-tempered waiters at Time Warner, Cox and Comcast?
Suggests some interesting questions:
How long before cable companies become nothing more than ISPs?
If they can't charge exorbitant fees for access to their slate of channels and to use their inadequate set-top boxes, they become little more than an ISPs with a good set of pipes. Which brings up a corollary question: How long before those pipes become totally unnecessary?
Do the studios have any value beyond the intellectual property they already have?
If the control of content is wrested from the studios, what value do they provide? They've got some big studios they could rent out. And, presumably, a lot of cameras and lighting and what-not. But with production increasingly happening on location and the cost of technical production going down, that's not much value. What they do have is all the stuff they created in the past. In the case of Disney, they have power of their characters, their back catalog, their brands and their creative departments. They've basically got Mickey Mouse, The Little Mermaid, ESPN and Pixar. A lot, to be sure, but it certainly isn't the impenetrable wall they have today.
What happens when that wall comes down?
You can certainly see how some of those media properties become less valuable in the future. What happens when the NFL doesn't need to deal with the cable companies or distribute their product through Disney's ABC Sports and ESPN anymore and simply can instead offer their games (all of them) on a pay-per-view, on-demand basis? Could this be what the NFL is thinking with its much maligned NFL Network? Remember: the NFL didn't get to be the juggernaut it is by playing softball and being stupid. Don't you think the NFL (in this case, the content creator) would jettison these partners immediately if they could charge a small fee to customers to watch the games or keep all of the ad revenue for themselves (or both)?
Play that scenario out with any piece of content. Was that James Dolan that just fainted?
Granted the NFL is the NFL. But what happens when a venture capitalist and a small production group get together and create the next Heroes? Do you think they'll be running to sign a distribution deal with NBC or trusting that the inherently viral nature of the Internet will take care of that pesky issue for them?
Will all of this make search and social networking even more important in the future?
If the TV becomes an empty vessel for endless content, the viewer has to find what they want, right? Google made finding content easy. Apple made finding and acquiring music easy and legal. Facebook and myspace have made internet communications more personal and fun. Won't some combination of this become the new interface for that empty vessel formerly known as the television set?
So much for TV Guide.
UPDATE: Is TiVo making a move?
The writers' strike in Hollywood has generated a lot of interesting commentary, most of it (not surprisingly) applauding the chutzpah of the writers and chastising the fossilized studios for their shortsightedness. Two of the more interesting stories - this L.A. Times article and this blog post by Netscape founder Marc Andreessen - present compelling new visions for the future of entertainment, a future owned by the creators rather than the distributors. But I think there is a player in this drama that's being neglected and their role might ultimately be the most transformational... the advertisers.
As Andreessen correctly notes, traditional television is supported primarily by large national advertising campaigns from your favorite domestic beers, automakers and household cleaners. In an age when there were only three or four networks, big advertising campaigns seemed to make some sense. If you advertised on MASH, you had the attention of a third or more of the nation. But TV hasn't been like that for more than a quarter-century. The returns on network advertising have been diminishing rapidly while the prices for spots keeps going up.
I'm not an Ad guy, nor have I ever been, but it strikes me as incredible that this model has lasted as long as it has. I've watched Mad Men. I know Ad guys are fast-talkers, but that they've been able to continue this charade is kind of admirable. Corporations are paying twice as much to reach a fraction of the people they did 20 years ago. And it's costing them more than ever to produce the commercials. Throw in Tivo and DVR and many of the people who actually watch the show don't even watch the commercials. Who sees this as a responsible way to spend the shareholders' money?
What does this have to do with the writers' strike? Well, it finally gives corporations the opportunity to break from the nasty habit of network advertising. Most companies have dipped their foot into alternative ad models. Without a new season of Lost, they'll be encouraged to really dive into all the options out there. What will they find? A number of preferable alternatives which more directly engage their target consumers.
Advertisers will be free to explore a more social approach to marketing, taking advantage of the increasingly active user bases on social networking sites like Facebook and YouTube. Rather than passively running ads on television shows in the name of "awareness", they can more actively court consumers to participate in their brands and to become evangelists. With the internet there's hardly any need for awareness anymore. What corporations need is activity and consumers are more than willing to personally market a brand or product that is appealing to them. A successful approach to social marketing will require a great deal more management and represent a fair amount of risk compared to shotgun-style spots on ABC, but the reward should prove greater as well.
After the lost TV season of '08, a great number of advertisers might find they don't need to advertise much on network television anymore. And whatever the resolution to the writers' strike, if the advertisers don't come back, the network model will finally crumble and the new models which Andreessen endorses will be well-positioned to flourish.
The Kellogg School of Management is running an ad (e.g. BusinessWeek, Nov. 26th, p. 111) for executive education that does a good job of breaking free of the clutter. I wonder if the highlighted collaborative approach that inspires me to put my ideas into action is not a bit under-served by its broad promise to "fulfill my aspirations", but its heart is in the right place.
Is every bit of "news" becoming News Alert-worthy?
Used to be, the major networks would break into their normal programming only for critical events--a tornado warning, an assassination attempt, the moon launch. Today, Fox News runs a News Alert graphic every time it presents the hour's headlines. Distracting? Yes. Annoying. Also yes. Truth is, you never know whether the items are going to be newsworthy or not.
But do these graphics get us to pay attention? We've probably all taken a second look when the News Alert flashes on the screen. All of which is worth keeping in mind when developing marketing strategy and tactics: How are you adding the "alert!" to your brand story?
We've been watching the revival of wordplay in US marketing:
Camry is "My Car".
Use Beano (food enzyme dietary supplement) and "there'll be no gas".
CIT Group (commercial and consumer finance) runs a campaign that asks us to "C It grow ...".
While this sort of wordplay has been around as long as advertising, it seems particularly relevant now that brand slogans have lost their power to inform and excite. These days, taglines seem appended to brand names out of habit, because "that's what everyone else does".
With anagrams and word play, there's a way for marketers to make their brand names and advertising messages stand out again; until enough companies use the same tactic and we are overwhelmed with their cleverness.
Makes us wonder about the future. Of course, TRW laid claim to that some twenty years ago by borrowing the T, R and W from the word "tomorrow". OMORO?
Mountain Dew ads
Don't Touch the Pinstripes
Apparently MLB had seen fit to allow Ricoh to advertise on the players uniforms and Commercial Alert, a non-profit group which monitors advertisers has complained to commissioner Bud Selig. The letter to Selig is quoted in the article and has a particularly stinging line of argument: "You are the trustee of a legacy. Do you really want to pass along to those who will come after us an item of tarnished and compromised commercial goods?" Ouch.
I agree that baseball players should not become billboards for consumer products. There is something disturbing and wrong about the idea. Baseball is big business and no one should be surprised when it acts like big business. But like any business, baseball also knows its customer base -- the fans -- and I would be very surprised if we see ads on any uniforms reappearing any time soon.
Shop the Vote
Well, it is an election year after all. The election is big news and on everyone's mind. Natural then that marketers are capitalizing on the event and tying their products to – obviously non-partisan – political activity (kinda like political activism but without a point of view).
Voting is like vegetables. Everyone accepts that both are good for you. There is a particular obsession with “getting out the vote” to the nation’s youth, who are notoriously apathetic when it comes to exercising their electoral rights. Now we have the WWF of all folks, coming at us with the “Smackdown Your Vote!” campaign. This is kind of the flip side to the brouhaha last month around Urban Outfitters’ “Voting is for old people” t-shirt.
I’m a little confused by these efforts. Is this a sign that the country is becoming more poltical or less political? Why do we need Unilever (a Dutch company) to gently prod us to the voting booth? More importantly, why does Unilever care? What are they hoping to accomplish? What does this communicate about their brand? Would they consider registering all citizens or just Hispanics in certain important markets?
A New Low for Letters
In what is certainly a new low for the world of writing, Ford has signed up "chick-lit" novelist Carole Matthews to plug Ford Fiesta's into several volumes of her work, according to the New York Times. Product placement on TV has become effectively invisible to the viewer: the question now is whether product placement in fiction writing will become the norm as well. We have to believe that it won't. On television and in movies you can have a real (if semi-unconscious) experience of the product being shown. The same cannot, fortunately, be said of a product stuck into the middle of a novel.
Hey Boeing, You're Goofy, and I Love It!
Sometimes a really goofy marketing idea really appeals to me. Reading this week's Economist, I saw a 2-page spread advertising a new Boeing airplane. the "7E7 Dream Liner". A new airplane! Wow! The ad directed me to www.newairplane.com and I went first thing.
Well, the bad news is that there really isn’t any new airplane. Not yet at least.
The good news--if you care at all about these things--is that Boeing is inviting you to join their "World Design Team" in order to help them figure out how best to create this new aircraft. As I said, the idea is kinda goofy, but I love it!
As with any idea of this kind, execution will be where the fight is won or lost. Obviously I have joined the Design Team, so we'll see what they do. I would imagine that once the advertising budget runs out, they will be a lot less energetic about supporting "the Team" and getting our feedback. But who knows?
Can you imagine if Boeing invited people to show up at planning meetings? I would be there in a second. I certainly have ideas about what plane design changes would make my flying experience better, and I certainly have a vested interest in Boeing getting it right.
This should be extremely interesting. Stay tuned.