Hostage marketing comes to an end

Dish Network just introduced its Hopper technology that enables customers to skip through the ads in shows they’ve recorded on their DVR.  It’s causing uproar in TV land as producers worry that with no ad revenue there’ll be no way of funding their shows in the first place.  The ‘old’ TV model relied on customers being held hostage and thus being forced to watch ads.  With the advent of VCRs and then DVRs, customers could, with some luck, skip most if not all the ads by fast forwarding through them.  The Hopper technology simply improves on something we all try and do anyway so it’s hard to see why there’s such a fuss.  Businesses that rely on taking customer’s attention hostage are doomed.  Let’s imagine that you couldn’t skip the ads just for a minute.  If that were the case and there was a two minute break in your show, isn’t it likely you’d use that two minutes to visit the bathroom, check email and or make a cup of something to drink?  In other words customers have choices that don’t involve watching annoying ads, so trying to find ways to prevent them from skipping them is like shutting the proverbial stable door…  Wouldn’t it be better if advertisers accepted that the old ad model was broken and instead focused on creating content that people actually wanted to see and engage with?  Ad agencies are very capable of creating such content but they need to be given the latitude to do so.  That said, they also need to propose a new approach to their customers rather than proposing the ‘old way’ yet again.  Advertisers and TV producers may complain about customers skipping ads but they should watch those ads and as themselves how many of them would they ‘choose’ to watch if they were given that choice?  My guess is that, if they’re honest, they’ll answer a big fat zero.  So instead forcing a diet of content on consumers that they don’t like, marketers need to focus on giving the customer content that they want to engage with.  If they do people will start looking for technology that gives them ads rather than the opposite.

Has your marketing got engaged?

Last night I did something unusual.  I sat an watched TV.  For a whole hour!  It wasn’t live TV of course.  It was something recorded but still it was TV.  It was great.  I just got to sit there and be entertained and because it was off the DVR I could skip all those pesky ads.  My teenage daughter joined me for a while but she spent equal amounts of time engaged with the show and with her friends online.  Nothing unusual there.  But the experience really brought home to me the problem many companies are facing with their marketing.  For decades marketing departments looked at forms of media that were non-interactive.  Consumers simply looked and listened.  We read stories around which adverts were draped, or we watched shows interspersed with ads that we sometimes watched.  It seems many companies are approaching the challenge the online world has created by producing marketing that assumes we are passive consumers of marketing, rather than people to get engaged with.  This is strange because what I’ve just said is nothing that new.  People have been saying for a while that the online world is all about getting engaged with consumers, yet for some reason it seems the vast majority of marketing dollars are still spent on forms of marketing that are passive.  Why?  I think the answer has two parts:

1.  Brands are struggling with ROI – the new marketing model requires new tools to measure its effectiveness.  There are no shortage of tools but there is a shortage of any agreed standard when it comes to measurement. Furthermore the goal of linking campaigns to sales still eludes most marketers.  It’s definitely possible.  We’ve run some highly measurable and thankfully successful campaigns for clients but it’s sad to say that too many campaigns are still run that go unmeasured and therefore hard to justify.

2.  Failure to innovate – many brands view innovation in online marketing as some clever pop up ad that you can’t avoid.  We all know that’s not innovation.  Innovation is where brands start with a clean sheet.  Instead of taking their old world tactics and applying them to the online world, they start with an online mindset.  They create and/or find content that engages with their audience.  We recently created a campaign for AMD that involved a virtual scavenger hunt.  It is designed to engage with developers so it hooks in to that community in a way that appeals to their inner geekiness.  In other words we gave developers a reason to interact with AMD and thankfully it seems they’ve jumped at that chance.

Now as a consumer I should point out that I don’t want to spend my day interacting with brands but I do expect that when I am looking for, or at something online that brands will try and engage.  Brands that sit and wait for my attention will struggle to get it.  So ask yourself a simple question:  how engaged is my marketing?  As far as I know there is no agreed percentage that is the new standard but if the answer to that question is: less than my competitors, it should be cause for concern.  Another way of answering it would be to brainstorm how engaged your brand could be and then analyse the gap between where you are now and where you could be.  For many brands engagement will be a journey but one they have to get on board with fast.  Otherwise they will become as irrelevant as the TV ads I skipped past while I watched TV last night.