April 13, 2010
 

Looking For the Next Big Thing, Part 1

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By Spyro Kourtis, President of The Hacker Group

Big advertising agencies sure don't mind making all their insecurities public. The trade rags are all fretting about the "death of the 30-second commercial." They're deeply distressed by what Advertising Age has labeled the post-advertising era. You can picture the meetings where everyone speculates about what's hot, what's not, what's next.

Now it's all coming to a head with the upfront network sales going on during the next couple of weeks. Will the market for commercials collapse?

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Well, maybe not this year. I don't really know. But, in my humble opinion, it ought to. Advertisers and their agencies are shooting in the dark when they buy TV this way. It's totally backward.

Full disclosure: I run a direct marketing agency. Direct marketing is the pencil-necked geek to the advertising world's handsome hero. We have our calculators handy and an Excel spreadsheet available at all times. Ad agencies, on the other hand, seem to get by on superficial charm.

Buying television media months in advance just doesn't make sense. My calculator and I say you shouldn't make a financial commitment to a medium (like TV) before you know whether it's an effective way to target your audience. And my gut tells me that TV isn't very effective anymore. Well, not just my gut. Everyone's saying it -- and that's why agencies are panicked. All most of them know how to do is make those clever 30-second commercials.

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Irrelevant... or just insignificant?

Here's the thing. It's not about the medium you use, it's about advertising's whole reason for being. Whether the world is aware of your brand isn't the point anymore. It's whether they're buying your products. Advertising isn't the answer to that problem - and agencies are beginning to believe they're about to become irrelevant. Well, if they don't change quickly they may not become totally irrelevant -- but they're certainly headed for less significance.

We can blather all day long about consumer-generated this and viral that -- as if it's now the consumers' job to tell each other about the products we want to sell. That's not going to help any of us keep our jobs. How does that work for a new product launch? How does that work for technical products that require an explanation? Doesn't it seem likely that the people who make and market a product or service should know just a little more about it than the people who buy it?

Instead, we should be looking for a relevant message aimed at a particular target audience in the medium of their choosing.

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Television has been it for the past 50 years. So now agencies are looking for what that next medium might be. The next big thing that will replace broadcast. But advertising trends are coming and going faster and faster. Even the hippest and the most Internet-savvy are in danger of looking like last year's fashions. Building a profile for your brand on MySpace is so 2006. Second Life? If you're still there, you must be a loser.

The salvation of advertising is not about getting your commercial to go viral on YouTube.

So what's in it for me?

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The key is relevance. Everyone looks at everything through the lens of "what's in it for me?" When was the last time you got a personally relevant message from something you saw on television? Were you watching network? Or cable? Cable has more relevance - and far smaller audiences. Seeing a dog food commercial on Animal Planet makes sense. Seeing it on Grey's Anatomy? Not so much.

Everything that was mass market is changing. It's not only television. Life Magazine just went under for the umpteenth time. Radio is fragmented. In new media, AOL is imploding - but threatening to reinvent itself.

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The only truly big thing left seems to be Google. And why is that? Because Google gives you only what you ask for. It's completely relevant. It's not mass market; everything Google presents you with aims to be as one-to-one as possible.

So search engine marketing must be the answer then. Except it isn't. Timing really is everything - and reaching buyers at that moment of decision is perfect timing. That's why companies love AdSense and AdWords pay-per-click marketing. It's the best thing since advertising in the yellow pages. But you can't wait passively for people to find you and your product after they've decided to buy something, just like you can't put your whole media buy into the yellow pages. You have to create the demand for your product or there won't be enough buyers.

So, what is the next big thing? I have the answer. But you're not going to like it.

Tune in tomorrow for Part 2!

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Spyro Kourtis, president of The Hacker Group, oversees his agency's strategic planning and relationships with a number of Fortune 500 clients including AAA, Expedia, Hilton Hotels, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, MSN, Oracle, VISA, Washington Mutual, WebEx and World Vision. He is publisher of High Performance Direct. He can be reached at skourtis@hackergroup.com.

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