Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Old School Rules

A group of my colleagues attended the Clemenger Group's digital training academy last week. They returned to the agency abuzz with a 'noobs' appreciation of 'digital'. They've had their epiphany, their road to Damascus moment.
No-one preaches like the converted.

Most of the work our firm has done over the years has been concentrated on developing properties that make highly efficient use of television. Most of the products we promote (last year 150 campaigns for some of the 90 of the world's biggest brands) respond well to promotion in our media properties (such as Family Health Diary, Eating Well and Discover. If you live in New Zealand and have never seen at least one of these I'll wager you don't watch very much television).
A 20% lift in sales is a modest result for our clients in most cases.

The market is beginning to shift though, and online video in particular is becoming an important tool that will be used by marketers to reach more niche markets with messages that are more enduring as part of a 'long tail' strategy.
We have developed programes for James Hardie The Drawing Board, Toyota Showroom, and Westpac Bank Talking Money Sense.
Going online means we will have to learn new ways to create efficiencies. If the data reveals that attention to videos lasts for a median 2.6 minutes and that on 16% of viewers stay with a clip until its end, then it makes no sense to leave the purpose of the communication to a vague pay-off.

Creating a complex, obscure gag with a punchline might be a disastrous strategy. It makes sense to be clear from the beginning what the purpose of a communication is. To function in this new environment will not only require the kind of person who is both creative and analytic but also values results over fawning peer praise for 'production values'.

David Ogilvy inspired me to get into advertising via his classic book Ogilvy On Advertising. I have included the classic clip of Ogilvy because if you replace the words direct marketing from his monologue with the word digital or interactive it makes perfect sense today. Digital is almost inherently meaningless now. It simply means distribution without physical form - bits rather than atoms (it is also worth rereading Nicholas Negroponti's seminal book Being Digital which, though it was first published in 1995, will come as a revelation to those of you yet to experience the digital epiphany).

The most obvious expression of the digital era is the fact that messages will be delivered via screens - TV, computer and portable devices. The risk for advertising and marketing communications practitioners is that we imagine that the creation and distribution of messages is the business we are in. That is just the starting point. We have gone beyond the dissemination of ideas that are, effectively, instructions to purchase, to ideas that our customers can make their own and share with their friends.

In the past it would be unlikely that someone would video record a commercial to show to friend. Having no tangible (atomic) form means a clip can be shared with a personal network in moments. This is mother's milk to you, I realise. But it is still not commonly appreciated by even sophisticated marketers.

I still hear advertising people talk about how awards are 'the currency' in the advertising agency business.
They are wrong and getting more wrong with each passing day.
The digital era makes everything measurable. Things you wouldn't imagine
could be measured /will/ be measured as new uses for APIs are developed.
The creative product is going to be a constant iteration and reiteration of ideas. The bits that work will stay. The bits that don't work will be discarded.
Every communication will be a test, not a work of art. Or, if is is art, it will be performance art.
A stand-up comedian doesn't keep telling jokes that don't make the audience laugh.
That's called dying on stage.
If you are measuring the performance of your marketing communications by brand metrics you are sadly out of step.
The key metrics are customer centric.
Brand equity is replaced by customer equity. What matters is the lifetime value of the customer.
Even terms like 'engagement'; liberally bandied about as brand oriented people segue to demi-digitals, are half hearted and ignore the supremacy of conversion.
Did you meet your objective?
If your objective isn't results oriented then you are simply tinkering about.

Does that mean creative isn't important?
Quite the opposite.
It just means that what you create has a very specific purpose and if it isn't fit for the purpose it is modified or thrown away.
The best people in advertising have always felt this way anyway. A willingness to 'kill your babies', the ideas you fall in love with because they are cute - or simply because you worked hard on them has always separated fey prima donnas from successful advertising practitioners.
Does that mean messages shouldn't be skillfully crafted?
No. Again, quite the opposite. But the craft is to hone the performance by degrees.
The day of the magnum opus, the blockbuster, are over Buster.

The old school rules apply like never before.