Sole prediction for 2009

michelinPredicting the future is a mug’s game. Nobody predicted Google, or youtube. they may have felt the need for the service they provide but nobody saw them coming.

interesting tale: we at the escape pod once had the pleasure of meeting and hanging out with Google’s first salesman, david scacco. he was the guy whose job it was to visit ad agencies back in 1998 and sell advertising agencies on the merits of using google. in 1998! can you imagine a tougher sell? He showed us his foamcore backed presentation boards that he used to use in his original presentation. surely they’re in the google museum by now. they were very funny. stuff like “over 125,000 daily users!” and “search over 2 million web pages!”.

even if he’d presented Google, the idea of google, to me back in 1998, i’m pretty sure i would not have recognized its future potential. so no future predictions from The Escape Pod.

OK, just one. It’s this. 2009 will mark a return to the basics of advertising in a big way. and i don’t just mean in a there’s-a-recession-we-have-to-sell-stuff way. I mean a refocusing on what advertising is supposed to do as opposed to “ooh look there’s a new digital thingy let’s obsess about that for ages”. we see a return to big ideas. big ideas that can effortlessly be incarnated in any medium or platform or whatever. big ideas have, and always had, power. they are infectious and usually elemental. they have intrinsic value. they are WORTH something.   they can make  a brand.  my first boss was the guy who came up with the big ideas that made Perdue Chicken (the best)  Volvo (well engineered safety)  and Maxell Tapes (worth it) what they were.  his ideas (and the ideas of his clients) created a magic.  he defined brands.  he said  he “helped brands realize their destinies”.  which i always thought was as neat a definition of advertising as i’ve ever heard.

i recently had to buy tires for my minivan and one image kept swirling around in head. the baby sitting on the Michelin tire with the line “Michelin. Because so much is riding on your tires”. That’s what i mean by a big idea. have they even run that ad in the past ten years?  didn’t matter.  there it was, still haunting my consciousness.  still being the decisive factor in the purchase process of a product that everybody feels is important but nobody really has a clue about.

i think at this point we have all digested the idea of the internet and had enough experience of it that we’re not in its thrall anymore. we get it. it has its uses. but it’s not the only tool available to us. so let’s apply big ideas to to it.

have we entered the “post-internet” age?

[update:  is it just me or does the baby in the michelin ad look like an irish-american tavern owner?]

15 responses to “Sole prediction for 2009

  1. “2009 will mark a return to the basics of advertising in a big way.”

    Not even the basics of advertising – just the basics of communication.
    Human brain never changes.

    2009 is going to be a very long morning.
    Enjoy your coffee.

  2. thanks dion. great minds think alike is the only possible interpretation i can think of! ;-)

    best of luck in 09!

  3. you too mate. let’s do a meeting of “great minds” next time i’m in chicago (?)

  4. Let’s do it. The best pint of guinness in north america is but three blocks from The Escape Pod.

  5. @Dion – I would trust VW’s instincts on “the best pint of Guiness in North America”

    Return to ideas, on the other hand… maybe.

    We may just have landed in a post-advertising era, not a post-internet one.

  6. ha!

    but seriously dion, it is the best pint of guinness. they spit them there out like a machine gunner at gallipoli!

    alan, i was referring to myself purely. i am “post-internet”. that’s just how i feel. it hasn’t surprised anyone in a long time. a lot of basic needs have been fulfilled. that will dampen the innovation.

    brands will always need to promote themselves. especially the non prom queen brands as you put it. and if there is to be a fundamental split within the ad movement, to put it in IRA terms, i’m going with the brand promotional get-their-attention side. coz that’s what i’m good at. but also because big brands will always need that.

    you heard it here first folks! The Escape Pod sides with the story telling side in ad civil war.


  7. Vinny,

    Painful as it may be, I feel compelled to tell you that a miracle occurred here in the Berkshires last year. A young local, Biff Sisco teamed up with a young Corkman, Tadhg Murphy and opened a bar, An Tobar, called The Well in deference to the local language. I grew up in Dublin not far from St. James Gate, and I must tell you that they serve a pint of Guinness there you would die for. You could trot a mouse on the head. I’m not sure how we go about verification, but for myself I’ll go in tomorrow just to make sure I’m right.

    Now, on to the trivial discussion about advertising in 2009. I’m inclined to agree with Alan. There are some interesting discussions going on, Brian Collins, Zeus, design thinking, together with a great deal of nonsense. But I do think they are on to something that’s heading toward a more post-advertising era. A few years back, in her blog, Kathy Sierra noted that: “The secret is to be more provocative and interesting than anything else in their environment.” I’m not convinced that advertising is the best way to achieve that anymore.

  8. ciaran,

    well anyone named Tadhg from Cork’s pint of Guinness can’t be that bad, can it. as you probably know the goodness of the guinness in a pub is in direct proportion to the percentage of time guinness flows through the lines. it’s all chemistry! and not ever cleaning the lines. the best guinness back home always came from pokey wee pubs that sold a lot of it and weren’t fanatical about cleaning the lines. in direct contradiction of official guinness company policy.

    i was being just a tad melodramatic in my post but mainly just because i can no longer listen to people who have never actually worked ANY media telling me how to communicate with people. i get it. and i have work that proves that i get it.

    take your Kathy Sierra quote, for example. nothing that Colin Millward et al weren’t acutely aware of back in the 60s. yet a lot of social media, ahem, experts act like just because something, usually the bleedin’ obvious, is finally dawning on them that the rest of the world are idiots and must be told immediately. Alan is thankfully not one of these. he’s come through both old and new schools. as i have. we know what we’re talking about because we PRACTICE it in real life. not just in the blogosphere.

    but my real problem is that all this hot air is proving to be not very useful to me in real life. and an awful lot of the blather seems to be predicated upon utopian visions that consist of marketing very talk-worthy products to highly interested consumers. and of course these companies are led by sensitive, switched-on visionaries who have nothing better to do than twitter all day long.

    IMHO, the fundamental thing about the internet from an advertising POV is that the medium itself is not dependent upon advertising for its existence. advertising doesn’t really belong there is the truth. that’s why google’s barely there text ads are arguably the best ads on the internet. they’re a great use of the medium.

    i don’t think we are in a post advertising age. advertising just has to get a hell of a lot more interesting, that’s all. and it will. it already has gotten a lot more interesting for me in the past few years. i’ve done things i couldn’t imagine doing five years ago. it’s like when TV got a lot better when it looked like the audience was disappearing.

    the truth is advertisers didn’t REALLY have to try to get consumers attention. tv networks did it for them. advertising, up to now, didn’t actually have to be really interesting. and now it does. which is why we started the escape pod.

  9. Vinny,
    Of course I agree that advertising has to get a lot more interesting. The question is where and how? The answer to those questions was a lot easier in Colin M’s day.
    Incidentally, I don’t know how familiar you are with Kathy Sierra and her blog Creating Passionate Users. She stopped blogging in April, 2007 after a very nasty incident. I don’t think anyone blogging has delivered relevant insight on a more consistent basis. Check out her archives.

  10. Ciaran,

    Well, most notably Crispin Porter Bogusky has created a lot of advertising that would have been unimaginable just a few years ago (Whopper Freakout, whopper virigins, BK video game etc) that is actually interesting and noteworthy as opposed to the “pretend funny and interesting” shite that advertising agencies have churned out for decades. We at the escape pod created a 50 minute TV show for back-to-school that actually ran on TV. Which was light years (in every sense) away from anything we’d done previously. That’s what I mean. Making things that can compete with anything out there. Online or offline. 60 years of sucking on the network TV teat has understandably dulled ad agencies ability to come up with anything genuinely exciting but that’s changing. Now that it has to change!

    I am familiar with Kathy Sierra et al. And for a while there, 2004/5, there were some genuinely interesting ideas and theories being tossed around by the A-list marketing bloggers. I was, and remain a big fan of Hugh McLeod. But recently it has, for me, degenerated into a bit of an echo chamber with the same stuff being said over and over and over by the same people. And I’ve noticed there’s an element of dogma creeping into it too. Which is never a good sign. It has become the super-smart social media “experts” vs the unbelievably stupid advertising agencies who just don’t get it. In the same way that conservative radiio blowhards railed against the “liberal extremists” who existed largely only in their own heads. And not real life.

    Seth Godin posted something recently that struck a note with me. He pointed out that not all media are advertising friendly media. twitter for example, is a connecting medium, like facebook is. There’s no need or room for advertising on them. Which isn’t to say they can’t possibly be harnessed for marketing purposes but to pretend that they represent some brave new world of opportunity for adverising is crazy. They don’t.

    Good example. Online shoe vendor is frequently heralded as a great user of social media. their CEO (who is hesitate to name because I know he’ll find this) is constantly on twitter. As are his staff. Great! Wonderful. I actually came into contact with when when I ranted about a woeful experience I had with zappos over at alan’s site. He contacted me via tangerinetoad, apologized, and gave me a $150 voucher to make me feel better. Which was great. But you know what would have been better? If I’d never had the problem to begin with. And it was a basic problem. You know what else would have been nice? If the site didn’t look like it was designed in 1997. And another nice touch would have been not emailing me announcing that zappos (Spanish for shoes) is now selling…I kid you not…Cookware!

    Does try to sell me shoes??? But all of this is glossed over because their CEO is on twitter! Whoopee! That forgives everything. Um, no it doesn’t.

  11. (this is an excerpt from seth godin post i mentioned earlier)

    Brands, social, clutter and the sundae

    The Times reports that traditional brand advertising on Facebook is a total failure. If you’ve been doing this for a while, this is no real surprise.

    Mark Drapeau asks whether brands belong on Twitter [I apologize to Mark for initially misunderstanding his post. My fault.]. Venture Beat says that Twitter made Dell a million dollars. That’s nuts. Did the phone company make Dell a billion dollars? Just because people used the phone to order their Dell doesn’t mean that the phone was a marketing medium. It was a connecting medium. Big difference.

    There are two key problems here.

    First, these big companies are asking precisely the wrong question. They are asking, “how can we use these new tools to leverage our existing businesses?” They want to use the thing they have (money) to get the thing they need (attention) and are basically trying to force ads onto a medium that just doesn’t want them. Do people really want to follow P&G on Twitter so they can learn about the history of the soap operas they sponsored? Why? There are millions of people to friend or follow or interact with… why oh why are you going to spend time with Dunkin Donuts unless there is something in it for you?

    Traditional advertising is inherently selfish. It interrupts in order to generate money (part of which pays for more interruptions). That approach doesn’t work at a cocktail party, or at a funeral or in a social network.

    This is the meatball sundae. Asking what the medium can do for you instead of what you can do for the medium.

  12. Vinny,

    I have a sinking feeling that we might be starting a
    semantic discussion here, one that may go nowhere.
    I loved CPB’s Freakout and Virgins, both great ads. I’m not sure that I would call a 50 minute TV show an ad, or a Mrs. O. See what I mean?
    Which is one way to interpret what Seth Godin
    is saying (he really s one of the smartest people around, constantly moving, changing).
    Anyway, whatever you call it, i hope CPB and The Escape Pod continue to approach whatever
    they do with the same high octane imagination.

    PS. Where might I be able to see that TV program TEB produced?

  13. TEP that is.

  14. i think the very idea of what constitutes an ad is changing but the purpose (persuasion to purchase) hasn’t. i can remember when people used to get excited about posters! that wasn’t that long ago.

    you can see a 15 minute youtube-only version of our TV show here. it was the second year we did this so we had a bit of experience. the prank worked so we got some riotous footage. enjoy.

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