Advertising climate change – are we all in denial?
May 2, 2013
Jon Bradshaw is the director of brand traction, a marketing consultancy for the modern age. He has over 20 years of experience in marketing and brand building. None of which is of any use any more. There are 24 metaphors in this article. Jon recognises he has a problem.
How to re-engage with your audience in the new marketing landscape
I’ve got a dirty secret. It’s one I share with many marketers. I’m an analogy addict. Try
saying that fast, five times in a row.
I can’t resist the lure of a good related story to dramatize my point. I find it impossible to just say what I want to say. I need to find a parable, a metaphor, a simile or even just a piece of urban mythology to dramatize my point. I guess that makes me a drama king. See even when trying to talk honestly about my addiction I use a bloody archetype.
No surprise then, that I can’t rid myself of this affliction when it comes to writing down
what’s on my mind about marketing. Marketing after all is littered with metaphors and
analogies. The worst thing, however, is that I genuinely believe marketing is at a moment
in time when it’s all about to change.
We are at an inflection point. A crossroads, would be the more obvious of popular symbols to pick to represent where I feel the profession and industry are at. The problem is that history is littered with analogies for the hero, facing impending doom. There’s a million metaphors to choose from. I feel like a kid in a toyshop. Yup there I go again, even when talking about how to pick analogies, I use an analogy. I tell you it’s a disease.
One oft used story is that of the boiled frog. Its urban myth that the frog gently heated in
a pan of water will not leap out. But it serves to make the point. In a somewhat cruel and
unusual way. As marketers I do believe we are being gently cooked, as the consumer
landscape heats slowly up and we stay resolutely still.
Canute is another powerful tale that represents where I think we are. A true one to boot.
I’d use the traditional spelling of his name but it wreaks havoc with my spell check. I do
genuinely see many of my colleagues and friends standing resolutely on the shores of
advertising as the seas of change roll steadily in.
So how to pick one? How best to exemplify my point. How do I light the blue touch
paper, set the platform alight and put a rocket under the ass of Aussie marketing?
I’ve ended up with Climate Change. It’s a really good metaphor for what I want to say.
Not that I believe the challenges facing marketing are the same scale or impact as our
environmental crisis. They’re much bigger than Al Gore’s little temperature problem for
God’s sake. But I do think the marketing environment faces some of the same challenges.
• The data is indisputable. There’s a seismic shift underway.
• A large number of people, especially the manufacturers of marketing fossil fuels,
are in total denial about what’s happening.
• There are a heap of snake oil salesmen selling the marketing equivalent of windfarms
and hybrid cars.
• Nobody has a clue about what to do instead.
So I’m going to try to talk about some of that. A bit like Al Gore, I’m probably going to
ask as many questions as I answer, but I’m hoping to leave you no longer in denial and
somewhat hopeful that you don’t have to be underwater in 5 years time. Here’s how I’m
going to do that.
1. I’m going to set the platform alight. I’m going to re-present the data and hope
that you draw the same conclusions from it that I have. That the crucial question
to answer is no longer what to say in our marketing, but how do we get anybody
2. I’m going to talk about how advertising and marketing has evolved as new media
have emerged and try and explain WHY some things have worked and others
haven’t. Why does the audience respond to some things, not others?
3. I’m going to hang it out there and suggest how it might have to evolve further to
really deal with the challenges and access the opportunities the new environment
has to offer.
Five years ago I used to describe myself as a marketing expert. I knew how to do
marketing. I’d been well trained at Mars, Diageo and Virgin and I knew my stuff. It may
just be the descent into senility and the onset of my second childhood, but nowadays I
don’t feel I can say that. Nobody I know, knows how to do marketing anymore. I’ve gone
from marketing guru to marketing novice. So of course I’ve started my own consultancy!
The best I can say in a pitch or an interview nowadays, however, is that I am an expert in
re-learning how to do marketing. I’m not living in denial. I know the world changed and I
need to play catch up and play it fast. I’m going to talk about why I feel that way. As
always with these things I make no pretence of being right. I gave up the illusion that I
might be right, about the same time I gave up on the idea that I could dance.
But I hope to make you think. Maybe you can start where I have got to and make some sense of it all. First though, I think it’s worth reminding ourselves that not EVERYTHING has changed.
In and amongst all this turmoil, the job has not changed. Marketing’s role is to change the way customers and consumers behave, usually in order to make more money for the organisation. If we can focus on doing this for the long term, not just the short, we are doing our job really well. Whilst that may seem a trite truism it’s always worth restating, as the real world gets in the way all too often and we end up focused elsewhere. On things like awareness and likes and awards and a whole heap of other things that might be good measures, but aren’t good reasons.
As we break that truism down there are some other constants in all this change. The tasks we need to perform haven’t changed. We need to acquire new consumers, get the current consumers to buy more, keep those consumers and persuade them to pay a higher price. I also believe the fundamentals of the way to change long term behaviour also hasn’t shifted. We need to create a true, differentiating and motivating brand positioning, wrap it in a powerful brand identity and then find ways of communicating it to the people who we want to affect in a comprehensible, impactful way.
Our purpose, our goals and our message haven’t shifted. But the medium has. It’s shifted
radically and fundamentally and it’s going to keep on shifting for quite some time yet.
Most call it ‘digital’ to try and contain it in a box, but I think its much, much more complex
than that. The medium is not defined by the transmission technology. For me its about
the changing way our audience consumes media, not how the media arrives into their
lives. It’s my opinion that we are still mostly trying to fit square peg advertising into
round media holes. I realise that’s yet another analogy, but I think it makes the point quite
The way we connect to people, the way we communicate our message, the way
we engage with an audience, has to change fundamentally, because the audience is
changing its media consumption habits. If we keep trying to blast out a message to an
audience that isn’t listening and doesn’t care, we won’t achieve the same results. At that
point, marketing will no longer make the organisation more money. Then the analogy is
simple. You and me and the rest of the marketing profession are then royally,
fundamentally and irrevocably screwed.
So let’s talk about media and just for a moment let’s leave the world of metaphor behind
and talk about some facts.
The media landscape has changed, but worse than that it’s still changing. This is where I see a whole heap of climate change deniers clinging on to the past in the hope that we are just having a slightly warm media summer. The issue is the same as the environmental one. We are not yet at crisis. We have not yet sunk under the ocean. But I think the data, like Al Gore’s famous long-term temperature chart, shows us which way we are heading.
Let’s talk TV. It’s still the best way to deliver audience we know of. I think that’s why it’s
so easy to warm ourselves by the cosy fire that’s burning under the mass broadcast
medium. It’s still operating pretty well. Television is more memorable than any other form
of advertising medium (Deloitte 2010). Even in 2012, broadcast TV still reached 87% of
all Australians (Nielsen, 2012), that’s a pretty seductive number. But when you look a little
closer, all is not well.
Listen more closely to Mr. Nielsen for a second. One third of all those viewers, are
watching time-shifted TV. And we know that 86% of time-shifters skip through the ads.
Don’t believe the snake oil salesman who tells you that people still retain key information
from fast-forwarded ads. It’s just not true. Perhaps even more surprisingly online TV
watching already has 43% penetration. That’s already half the reach of broadcast.
Whilst the media climate change deniers will tell you that TV is still effective as a broadcast
medium, they are only telling half the story. There’s an on demand narrowcast tsunami
right behind the TV beach. Once the audience is on demand, we can be sure the one thing they are most unlikely to download and watch is the advertising.
The other great claim of the sceptics is that nobody consumes media in any depth
‘online’. That watching a two minute YouTube clip isn’t the same as watching primetime.
But it’s just not true. If we look at consumption data we can see that online viewers watch
as many hours of content online as broadcast viewers. What you watch online isn’t that
different it seems, but where you are watching it and whether there’s any advertising in it
is totally different.
The change is also about to get faster. In Australia, we are managing all of this online, time shifted, ad skipping TV on an internet infrastructure so outmoded that it struggles to handle content rich email. Once the NBN arrives, get ready for some real change.
So what about putting all those lovely ads onto our YouTube channel, owned media
space and buying a raft of banners and Facebook ads? A bit like TV, some people will
watch them. It’s not a total waste of time. In fact it’s probably necessary to do it. It’s just
not sufficient. It’s necessary to have toilets in your office. It’s just not sufficient to make
your business succeed.
As the head of advertising for Tooheys, Hahn and XXXX in Australia I needed to sell over
1.5 billion drinks per year. Doing that by relying on the 150k Facebook friends of those
brands was never going to be sufficient. You do the maths.
I’m no futurist. Nor am I any kind of tech expert, or early adopter, but it seems to me that
if I can watch exactly what I want, when I want and not get interrupted by the ads, I will. I
have Apple TV and Foxtel IQ at home. I don’t watch ads. And I LOVE ads. I make ads. I’m
an ad advocate. I truly believe that within a very short time frame the nature of scheduling and channels as we know them will change beyond recognition and in so doing our ability to interrupt the audience with a juicy ad will be at best hyper-diluted, at worst over.
So if the old way of beating the audience over the head with the media stick is almost
over, but the digital messiah might, today at least, just be a very naughty boy, what do
we do instead?
In my opinion we need to start by changing the question. Historically we have asked ourselves, “what shall we say and do?” and “where shall we say and do it”. The ad agency and the media agency. These are still important questions. They are necessary. But not sufficient. For me the key question to ask now is “why would anyone want to listen and engage?”
The issue as I see it is we can no longer rely on our ability to interrupt the audience with
our messages in ANY medium. Digital or analogue. And audience is EVERYTHING.
Remember we are in the behaviour change business. We need an audience whose
behaviour we can affect. To really understand what’s going on then, we need to reexamine
WHY people might CHOOSE to engage with marketing in the first place, and
work out how to replicate that every time we take a new campaign or idea to market.
We seem, as an industry, to be worried about the wrong things. We obsess over the
WHAT of advertising. Is it creative enough? Pretty enough? Dramatic enough? Award
winning enough? We debate HOW to get the message out. Spreadsheet after
spreadsheet of media planning detail.
Again these things are necessary. But not sufficient.
We need to turn our attention to WHY. WHY will an audience choose to pay attention to what we want to say? If we cannot demand they pay attention, we have to know WHY they might do so voluntarily. In order to make work they choose to engage with.
I’m interested to hear your thoughts (and analogies). Please leave a comment.