There’s an old Chinese curse: may you live in interesting times.
Well these most certainly are interesting times for the marketing and advertising communities. And the single biggest change, as we see it, is that as consumers continue to edit marketing messages out of their lives, the competition for a sliver of their attention will become ever keener.
Contrast this with just ten years ago when whole swaths of juicy desirable demographics would obediently plop themselves on the couch to watch twenty minutes of Seinfeld and be pummeled with ten minutes of thirty second ads. Or, the good old days as we call them. The networks got the attention of the viewers and then sold it to the advertisers, who together with their agencies would construct very one-sided little films about the benefits of their product.
And it worked. Beautifully. People willingly traded their attention for the chance to see what Jerry and co. were up to this week. But once people were given the chance to avoid advertising, they took it. Why? Well for one thing, it just wasn’t THAT interesting. And quite often, it could be actively annoying and weird and embarrassing. But, every once in while would emerge a commercial that was actively sought out and embraced by the viewing public. Usually because it was so entertaining. Because it didn’t resemble the other advertisements. In other words it had crossed the line. It had stopped being ad. It had become programming. And that used to be exceptional.
But what was once exceptional must now be the norm. Now, advertising has to earn its own audience. Advertisers have to become programmers. Excuse us if this strikes you as blindingly obvious but we actually don’t think we’ve heard it put in those stark terms. Lots of pundits/journalists/bloggers talk endlessly of things like “brand conversations” and how the Internet has completely rewritten the rules. And it very clearly and obviously has. This is old news to anyone who takes even the slightest interest in our industry. But one rule that hasn’t changed is the marketer’s need to sell their stuff, urgently. Like, now! Can we have a brand conversation about that? Didn’t think so.
SELF-SERVING EXAMPLE #1: We at The Escape Pod actually created a back-to-school TV show to attract a teen audience for client OfficeMax.(You can view the trailer here). This wasn’t advertising. It was programming. Other advertisers (McDonalds, for example) actually bought ad space in the breaks of our program! That was a thrill. We had to write the copy for the DVD case (free DVDs of the show with exclusive bonus content were given away with $50+ purchase at OfficeMax). And we actually found ourselves writing the old Hollywood hype phrase “This is fun for the entire family” and meaning it. Our TV show was fun for the entire family. It was just undeniably good viewing. And there’s always a shortage of entertainment that whole families can enjoy.
SELF-SERVING EXAMPLE #2: We recently created a series of videos, again for client OfficeMax. Again, we didn’t rely on someone else to build our audience for us. We did it ourselves. Once again we used our experience of the Google ecosystem (love that term) to promote our content. And it worked. We have 2.6 million plus views on Youtube alone. And our Youtube channel was the #1 most-subscribed-to channel on Youtube for a month.
When you have the added responsibility of generating the audience, you gain some idea of what it must be like to be a TV or studio exec anxiously awaiting “the numbers”. You can’t just focus exclusively on exquisitely crafting the content (the ad) and eating M&Ms as you did when NBC simply passed its audience to you on a platter. Life is a lot more complicated now. And you can choose to ignore that. But you do so at your peril.
So it was interesting then that a prominent blogger took us to task for the “heavy-handedness” of our Youtube channel headlines. It was her contention/assumption that this was the product of us being ad folks from the old school who didn’t get it. “It” being the Internet and all that. Our headlines read “Hilarious hidden camera penny prank”. Which we thought was an accurate description. As did the thousands of Youtube commenters who ROFL-ed and LMFAO-ed.
What the blogger didn’t realize, and couldn’t realize really, is that we aren’t advertisers anymore. We are programmers. And if you’ve never been in that position, you simply cannot understand the breadth and complexity of what that entails. As we couldn’t have done, just a few years ago. Experience really is everything here. It’s like having kids. Or going into outer space.
There was absolutely nothing traditional or old-school about our penny pranks campaign. We fully embraced the possibilities of the Internet. This wasn’t conceived and intended as an ad. It was conceived as programming which we understood we would have to promote. It’s not enough that your content is great. People have to be made aware of its existence. Again, something Hollywood has known for a long time.
We simply wrote the most truthful and concise headline we could. The blogger suggested that the headline should have been “Hidden camera penny prank”. But that would have been underselling the videos. “What kind of hidden camera penny pranks were they? Were they serious penny pranks? Depressing penny pranks? Dangerous penny pranks? Oh, they were hilarious penny pranks? Says who? Everyone who sees them? OK, then “hilarious” penny pranks it is!”… Was our reasoning.
We have been creating advertising for a long time. And the fundamental assumption underpinning all our work has been that nobody cares (about advertising/about the product/about what we think) and it’s our job to make him or her care. And we have had some conspicuous successes. Respect for the audience is axiomatic for us. It has to be. Their attention is all-important. Especially now that it’s all about the audience. The audience that isn’t there anymore.