Monday, June 27, 2011

The future is not advertising

Every year, just as Cannes finishes I go through the same set of thoughts. The best work in the world changes your viewpoint on what our industry can do. In a good (if sometimes intimidating) way.

What is very clear, this year, is that the future is not advertising. It is not more ads. Scripts, pages, billboards –– these finite, closed loops of message space are no longer what our peers and clients judge as the pinnacle of communication.

My 6 favorite Grand Prix winners this year barely used ads, they won for creating something different. Each was an idea that communicated, not advertising.

They are inspiring and well worth reading through. Yes, I know, it is easy to nit-pick, (exactly how many people really used Bing within the Jay-Z/Decode project?), but sometimes nit-picking is just not worth it. Instead, I am asking what can we learn? How can we make better ideas ourselves? How do we persuade our clients to take bigger risks to reap bigger rewards?

Advertising is not the future, but still the future is so bright, I gotta wear shades.

Cannes 2011 Grand Prix Winners:
Design - interactive lobby at the new Cosmo Hotel 
Titanium - Decode with Jay-z/Bing 
Cyber - Wilderness Downtown, Old Spice, Pay with a Tweet
Media - Virtual Store 

Friday, June 24, 2011

Are media agencies failing? Or is Cannes Media just f**ked up?

Some interesting things I noticed about this years 2011 Cannes Media competition.

1) Of the 13 Gold Media Lions awarded, the split between Media vs Integrated agencies winning was 7:6; stand-alone media shops won 53% of the top awards. (The brilliant Grand Prix went to a Korean creative agency).

2) For the Silver gongs, the split was even more extreme, Media 10 : 21 Integrated

3) Of the 24 member jury, just 3 work at integrated shops. The vast majority were from media only shops.

What does this all imply?

A) That integrated shops are producing more, stronger work, overal than media only shops?

B) Integrated shops are perhaps just better at producing award entries?

C) The lure of any Cannes Lions has motivated Integrated (Creative) agencies to take Cannes Media seriously?

D) That Media execs hate their own? Or just that they are impartial enough to award the best work from wherever?

E) That the Cannes organizers need to bring in a broader range of judges, beyond media only shops, to reflect the changing momentum of where good work is coming from?

There is no single answer to all of these hypotheses. I do truly believe the integration of media and creative (and design, UX, coding etc) can happen faster and smarter within integrated shops. It is no surprise for me that integrated shops are winning so much.

Where does this leave media agencies? This is an important question. I think my prior post on the promise of data is central to the relevance of media shops.

I wonder how far and hard the pendulum might swing towards integrated solutions first though?

Monday, June 20, 2011

The death of creativity? Getting there.

"Google represents between 50%-90% of display volume (QPS) being purchased by DSPs, ad networks and agency trading desks on a RTB basis. Incremental QPS volume comes from the SSPs (Admeld, Pubmatic, Rubicon), Microsoft (new to the game via Appnexus), Contextweb, OpenX and a few others."

If your read the above and are thinking WTF?, you are not alone. You need to know though, 'cause change is coming to marketing in a big way. This change is being driven by data, analytics and performance captured by companies such as Annalect, MarketShare, Google and others. 

Remember the old advertising quip, "50% of my advertising works, I just don't know which 50%"? Today there is, for the first time, a very real prospect that marketeers will know what 99% of their tactics are delivering, minutiltely and precisely. We are entering a new era of accountability which has  profound implications for creativity, instinct, and imagination.

So what is going on? Three factors are converging:

1) Comprehensive Data Across Media
Already the sheer tonnage of data being generated via the digital, social and mobile channels provides marketeers a window into consumers interests and behaviors. Traditional media is also joining the digital data party, with tablet editions of magazines, wired TV set top-boxes, electronic outdoor billboards, digital radio and more all enriching the picture. Throw in actual retail sales, both on and offline, and the host of other data points clients are collecting, and a new end game is in sight - comprehensive, fused and organizable data spanning every waking moment of consumers lives.

2) Audience Tracking 
As these streams of data are flowing in, more and more they are matched up to actual people. Yes, that sounds creepy, but for marketeers it is useful. Again, the end game of these improvements in matching media metrics with individuals is the better targeting and relevance of communications - think Tom Cruise in Minority Report.

3) Speed Speed, Speed
RTB, as quoted above, is for 'Real Time Bidding'. Today, Exchanges are completing the 7 or 8 steps necessary to serve a customized ad in under a quarter of a second! Why bother with what happened in post-campaign reports weeks or months after the fact, find out what is happening now! This is the promise of live advertising.

What does all this mean?

Medium term a huge amount of guess work is being removed from the advertising conversation. As an industry, agencies have benefited from the unknowns. We have been inefficient simply because it could never be proved what was working or what was not. In the debate between art and science, art could hold its own as the science was flawed. I see a day soon where the science has the proof needed to refute the intuition of art. 

The Death of Creativity?

No, it is not the death of creativity. Models, statistics and past-performance can not predict for the game-changing ideas. However, it is getting closer. The sad truth is the majority of our work is not game-changing. It is incremental and more-of-the-same. In this new era coming, the brute processing power of data is going to offer a better solution than real people most of the time.

Winners and Losers

This sort of depends on how you view things. Media shops are going to lose a lot of media planners and buyers - a lot! In their place will be a smaller number of data-jocks and analytics gurus. So, smarter organizations, but I think much smaller in terms of actual people.

Creative agencies are going to lose more influence and control. A lot of creative is going to become modular, constituent parts that algorithms can meld together instantaneously. There will be less great work overall.

Clients are going to have more productive work. That will be a win for them. They may not have as much fun getting there, but the CFO will not care about that.

Advertising as an industry will win. It will be more credible, more scientific and better received in board rooms. It will probably also be a lot less fun though as well.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The web is less free - good!

Back in 2009 Chris Anderson, the editor of Wired, published "Free:How Today's Smartest Businesses Profit by Giving Something for Nothing". His general thesis was that the web and digitization was radically changing the dynamic of pricing, and that consumers were being so conditioned by free, that there was no choice but to embrace free as a starting point. (Malcolm Gladwell wrote a pretty savage critique back in the day which was kind of delicious in its nasty-ness). 

I met recently with people from the NYT which got me thinking about Mr Anderson's book. 

The digital world, I believe, is not becoming more free. The NYT in erecting its pay-wall joins the WSJ, FT and Times of London, in becoming non-free. If these experiments continue to be positive, expect more and more journalism brands to follow these leaders. 

Looking broadly across the web, you can see brands with significant digital footprints such as Netflix, Ning and Apple, all making a ton of money by charging upfront for it. Netflix is 100% paid, Ning flipped to a paid model a year ago (and has more than doubled its customers), and Apple charges top dollar for everything. Even Google, a bastion of free, has been experimenting with charging for content, such as movies on YouTube.

What really seems to matter then? Well, another old maxim applies perhaps: content is king! For all the billions of videos on YouTube, how many do people really want to watch? HBO, Pixar, Random House, the WSJ, these brands provide content worth paying for and they are reaping the rewards. How you migrate customers from free to paid is tough, but clearly not implausible or impossible.

Brands will continue to experiment with pricing, offering free samples and the like, but as the web/digital has become pervasive, perhaps business as normal might become more normal. The world has changed, but we humans are still who we are. A new normal would be nice. In this view, good cotent offering good value will sell. In fact, brands will have even more ways to sell their output than ever before.


p.s. Is it ironic that the digital version of the book Free costs $9.99?

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Walking into Jeff Goodby's office - proximity matters

Here at GS&P, we believe in the integration of everyone around ideas. This particularly applies to my discipline of media. Ten years ago, media revolved around 5 media - TV, Print, Outdoor, Radio and Other (such as direct mail, or stunts). Your media decision was basically a modeling exercise, how much investment into each one of the standard and finite choices was the correct one? Hence, media was only ever needed during the last 5 mins of a presentation. (Yes, this is overly simplified, but honestly, not by much).

Today, media choices are almost infinite. Certainly, no one has enough money to solely buy awareness and engagement. Clients need brilliant analysis and consideration of how their brand communication ideas can live across touch-points, how people will discover it, engage it and share it. Most of the time, thanks to social media, you cannot even assume that a consumers first interaction with your brand idea will be via a kick-off TV spot or print ad. More likely they will stumble across it via a friends reactive tweet or status up-date; marketing is no longer linear.

This is where proximity matters. For Creatives, parsing through hundreds of rough ideas, having access to smart Communication Strategy thinkers, (what we call the evolution of Media Planners at GS&P), is a massive advantage. Communication Strategists at GS&P, (and other integrated agencies I assume), will work with teams directly, in their offices, in the corridors and elevators of our building, to explore together the potential of ideas. How can we orchestrate that idea so that it takes on a life of its own inspiring action far beyond the borders of paid media.

Physically, I can walk into Jeff's office at any moment, or he into mine, and we can work through stuff. Right then, right there, not in an official meeting, or conference call spanning time-zones. This proximity and iteration actually speeds things up. We get through and to good ideas faster. It saves clients money.

As an agency we have tried all sorts of methods for breaking down proximity, both internally and with partners. When it all boils down through, it is impossible to escape our nature as social creatures. We all work better when we are in the same room.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Time, or lack of it, and how that is not much of an excuse

It has been over a year since my last post. How feeble of me. I am generally busy with kids, work and life. However I know plenty of people who are equally busy and still generate stunningly smart content all the time. I do not think time, and the lack of it is a good enough excuse.

Commitment to thinking and making time to write seems to be the critical factor. It takes energy to produce actual content versus just reacting and posting in under 140 characters.

Clearly I need to work on that commitment. We shall see. No promises, but I have read that public declarations are more powerful in changing behavior than mental promises kept secret. I am going to try again to publish more regularly.