Thursday, April 29, 2010

The end of ad as spectacle

The meaning of the term 'media' has changed dramatically. Where it once meant the physical vehicle, the medium, by which information was conveyed - it now represents mediation between people and the world. How we view and understand the world is mediated by the media.

It might seem like a convoluted semantic argument but, the more I think about it, the more it makes sense to me and suggests some strategies for the future.

One of the fundamental planks of media has always been that of access. I can't know what is happening in the halls of power, because I am but a plebeian schlub. But Woodward and Bernstein do have access and they become my avatars under the great domes of democracy.

Now that media has become social and we plebs now have direct access to audiences, unmediated, disintermediated, wholus bolus and it means a tectonic shift in power has taken place. We the peeps…

Or has it?

Here's the thing. I may be a blogger…here, on Posterous, on Twitter, Idealog…but that doesn't necessarily give me access to influential people (maybe Idealog does, a little).

There has always been a grudging accord between journalists and the powerful. It goes along the lines of: 'if a tree falls in the forest…but no one is there to hear…does it make a sound?. So politicians and business people, movie stars and artists grant access in return for fame and the triumphant glory of an airbrushed spread in Hello! magazine, …vanity fare.

In an era where advertising no longer interrupts the content but is the content the currency of advertising needs to change. In the era of branded content we must offer people access to ideas and people who are relevant, interesting, sexy, fun…insert adjective…but to do that we need to have access. For our clients we have to be able to broker access to the right audiences for their messages.

It is an entirely new and different skill set from the historical approach to advertising where I 'create' and you pay attention. It is entirely more participatory and the winners will be those who understand by doing, not by theorising about a market's motivations based on vagaries and abstractions like 'household shoppers'. Forget about 'target markets' and the message. Synthesising messages down to 30 second fantasies will be as a quaint as pamphleteering seems now. Telling stories and documenting interesting lives will replace the crude spectacle that advertising became. The spectacle will become a lens. Access will be crucial. Make sure you have a back stage pass.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Where there's muck, there's brass

One of the most difficult tasks in marketing communications is developing promotional messages for your own company. Perhaps the most obvious reason is that we lack objectivity - the very objectivity that makes us valuable to our clients.

One of the temptations is to describe our business as something more complex or grandiose than it actually is. In conversations with the principals terms like 'paradigm shifting' seem to erupt with a curious regularity. Other buzzwords include 'engagement' slide in with the greasy ease of jargon du jour.

I'm inclined to think in terms of outcomes. Rather than waffle on about ourselves, doesn't it make sense to think in terms of what our customers want? Things that have real value - even if they are real simple?

The process of identifying the correct messages - how we meet underserved needs -has the secondary effect of forcing us to think about the kinds of product innovations are worth developing for our clients and prospects.

Our company is a very pragmatic entity. Our advertising products are systematic, rather than idiosyncratic conceptual offerings. While other advertising companies treasure the 'creative' product we simply produce advertising that is quicker, cheaper and proven to be more effective than the more conventional, bespoke alternative.

In order to better understand how our staff perceive the company the call went out to write a short description - a lift pitch. My pitch is that BrandWorld is the Toyota Corolla of advertising: It goes well, is reliable, not too fancy, has had loads of happy customers and is a bargain.

I realise there's not much status in owning a Toyota Corolla but in all honesty I would rather have the value generated by all of the Corollas in the world than ever dollar spent on Aston Martins.

Hopefully we won't be distracted in our ultimate communications decisions. Our products may not be 'sexy' by the usual measures (All of our main products have won marketing awards, but would show well in 'creative' beauty parade), but they succeed on every other scale.

Sometimes there's truth in truisms. Where there's muck, there's brass.

BrandWorld's website