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July 2013

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Jul 30, 2013

Giant Sucking Sound? The Publicis-Omnicom Merger

We are not yet 24 hours into the “big news” that ad giants Publicis and Omnicom have decided to merge forces to become the biggest giant behemoth of an agency holding company. I’ve been reading the blogs, the press, and the pundits for their immediate reactions. I have yet to find the “this is a good thing” sentiment for us as consumers.

First, let’s just knock down the foam a little. Most people in this world have no idea what Publicis or Omnicom are. I bet even within the rank and file of most agencies, no one knows who they are. On one hand, in the world of advertising, this is rather like Coke and Pepsi merging. (Which, in the case of Publicis and Omnicom is actually true: Each has one of those brands.) On the other, this is still just the world of sugar water. To most people, the brand of soft drink they consume doesn’t have much of an impact on the quality of their daily lives. (Of course, the Publicises and Omnicoms of the world will beg to differ, arguing that your brand affinities are the most important things in your life.)

What I’m struck with is the diabolical truth around what this merger will actually do in reality. Sure, the joint body will combine 130,000 people with various talents to create the world’s greatest advertising corporation. (For a counter argument, there’s The Onion’s take.) Yet, when you read the financial press, the merger is really all about negotiating power to suck the living daylights out of the price of advertising through Goliath-like purchasing power.

So, let me get this right. On the one hand (for those of you keeping score, we’re now on hand three), we have a company with a profound desire to combine creative forces to add value to advertising. On the other, we have teams of people working side by side to completely devalue the price of the consumer through intense ad-rate negotiating power.

This dynamic is going to cause additional Sybil-inducing personality disorders within the culture of Publicis Omnicom.

The argument for “going big” is to allow the agencies to compete against tech companies like Google. To me, that misses the point entirely. The reason Google is taking home the bacon is its transparent ad model: Advertisers get what they pay for—a site visitor. Even the best of the ad-targeting and automated-purchasing technologies that the large agencies clamor upon suffer endlessly with transparency and attribution models. The Publicis-Omnicom merger only exacerbates this growing tumor on the industry.

Thusly, the ad industry is not well-associated with making incredible bets on technology over the past 10 or 20 years. Many agencies continue to struggle with integrating digital into their culture and media flow. In fact, in many firms, digital has no more nuance or uniqueness than print impressions. And, yes, some of these firms are under the family crest of Publicis Omnicom. With its combined negotiating power, my expectation is that the ad technologies that win as a result of wooing Publicis Omnicom (and the other guys at WPP) will be those that benefit brands and agencies, not consumers.

And that’s a shame. Making agencies win isn’t what begets incredible technology. The skull-knocking technologies of the past decade have all been those that disrupted traditional business models. Think the record industry and the iPod. Think GPS apps versus, well, Garmin. The challenge for long-term relevancy for any advertising firm (mine included) is to look beyond short-term opportunities to squeeze the water from the rock toward the long-term burning desires of the consumer to be satisfied and wowed. The ad industry has a woeful modern track record of doing so. Making ad firms bigger isn’t the answer.

Jul 22, 2013

Technology And A Phish Concert

This past weekend I did what I’m sure every responsible mid-40-something with two teenage kids would do: I hopped a plane to see a weekend of Phish shows in Chicago!

This is not new to me. In fact, this summer marks the 20th anniversary of the first of my countless Phish shows. Back in 1993, I learned about Phish through a bandmate of mine who brought over a CD (remember those?). I was hooked. By 1995, email listservs (remember those?) began to pop up, allowing fans (er, phans) from around the world to find out who had recent live recordings. Once you found your “new best friend” with crispy soundboard (SBD) or audience (AUD) tapes, you’d send them blank cassettes (and these?) with return postage (and that?), and voila! A week or two later, you’d have your music.

It was magical.

Just a few small things have evolved since then, right? Hi-speed Internet, music streaming, massive storage capabilities. In fact, when I arrived home this past Sunday afternoon, I decided to purchase the live high-definition Internet stream from the final night’s show in Chicago. I listened to the first set of crystal clear music on noise-canceling headphones, watching the show on my HD TV from multiple camera angles. This all cost me $14.99.

Then it started to downpour in downtown Chicago, taking down the concert entirely. When the band took the stage over an hour later, the live stream had been knocked out of commission.

What happened? The Internet went crazy: “How can this happen?” “You guys SUCK!” “I want my money back!!!!”

Of course, all of this reminds me of my favorite Louis C.K. bit on Conan, where Louis excoriates people who “feel like they’re owed something they didn’t know existed only 10 seconds ago.” Or when people complain of slow cell phone calls—“GIVE IT A SECOND! IT’S GOING TO SPACE!”

I understand I’m talking like the old “get off my lawn” guy, but seriously. Technology happens so fast that people forget that it wasn’t that long ago that you couldn’t do anything you can do now. It used to be that your generation didn’t understand the generation before it. Now inter-generational advancement in technology happens. Just a couple of years ago, you had a lot of friends who didn’t have a smartphone. Some did. Some didn’t. Did you hate your friends who didn’t? Of course not.

What I learned—once again—over this past weekend is that people’s expectations of technology have no memory. If something new and cool happens in advancement, then we have no memory of what happened prior. Whatever’s new has been that way forever. While sending blank cassettes with return postage used to be amazing, now live HD streaming video of concerts is the new boring. It’s never good enough.

Think about that for a second in your own world. What happens when you or your competitor decides to change the game to a new normal that, quite simply, makes your way of doing things entirely obsolete? I experienced it yet again this weekend, and it’s amazing to see it happen in a blink of an eye.

Jul 16, 2013

Unwinding 75 Years of Television

Last week, I met with an old client of mine whose company has been around for nearly 100 years. We were discussing how fast the world is moving and the daunting challenges the never-ending landscape of media evolution creates for brands.

“We were built on television,” he claimed. For the latter half of the 20th Century, this was true: Brands were built on a specific medium. In fact, a great many of today’s dominant consumer brands grew almost entirely in relation to their investment in television. From Procter & Gamble to General Mills, some of the world’s most beloved brands engineered their growth through creative strategies, processes, and organizational structures around a single medium. Sure, outdoor, weekend newspaper circulars, and other touch points played a role, but TV was the sun at the center of the media solar system.

Today, we have both emerging and dominant brands that never relied on any media for their growth. Neither Google nor Facebook spent a dime on media in their early days to rise to global prominence. In an almost devilish way, both became two of the largest media companies in the world . . . without media.

If you walk into many consumer packaged goods companies, you’ll find businesses whose marketing and advertising departments, largely, continue to be organized around a dominant media source like television. I understand the dynamic. Television was very, very good to these brands. They owe their successes to television. But, increasingly, television no longer can attract the “mass” it once did, and as a result, companies are finding themselves in both the urgent and often uncomfortable need to unwind a total dependence on outdated internal processes and organizational structures to deliver new revenue.  

Certainly, these brands are investing in emerging media, often with tremendous results, but when peeling back the layers of complexities, one wonders if, structurally and organizationally, television is still at the center of the universe where other forms of media orbit.

I am hopeful, however. I truly do believe that a new breed of marketing executives is emerging or retooling that is putting the consumer at the center of the universe. You read a lot of 10-cent words around the field of “customer centricity” because it’s much easier to say you believe in such a thing—it’s entirely another thing to actually blow up 75 years of hardwired commitments of investment, organizational prowess, and external partnerships.

The transformation isn’t pretty, but the results will be magical.

Jun 25, 2013

What’s The Difference Between A Social Media Crisis And A Bonehead Move?

As a dude who’s been consulting with companies on the Web since the early ’90s, I always think I’ve seen it all. And then, out of nowhere, I see some brands pull bonehead moves, like publicly getting pissed at their customers or using a terrorist bombing as a platform to market oneself, that leaves you wondering if they’re on a corporate bender.

Most of these events are considered “social media crises” in the trade. They’re not. They’re typically very public displays of individuals or organizations still believing that they can put genies back in bottles or cats back in bags. Or just being plain old stupid.

So, how do we create a framework to avoid both these self-created crises or ones that occur to us because someone—oh, let’s say Edward Snowden—decides to blow the whistle on us?

Above All, Don’t Be Stupid
Stupidity knows no job description. Whether it’s the junior copywriter using atrocious grammar or the CEO using the Arab Spring to sell shoes, one’s ability to display a lack of intellectual rigor is a mad equalizer. Before you push “send,” think. Most self-made crises are simply the effect of someone not taking a breather or asking for a second opinion.

Have An Organizational Plan
OK. I’ve just jumped from the most simple of rectifying options—“don’t be stupid”—to one of the most difficult: Make social media an enterprise priority. I’m not sure how many PR crises it will take, but eventually all companies will realize that the social Web is the most connected and potent environment for consumer engagement, and as such, many people throughout the organization will need to add social communications to their job descriptions. Doing so will not be an option. More often than not, a potential crisis can be averted if an organization can simply empower the person who has the answer to the public inquiry to make a rapid, professional, and informed response. Too often, these responses come in the form of the digital press release or a watered-down, dare I say dismissive, missive from a person so far removed from the answer that the public only gets fueled in their frustration and disgust.

Take A Good Hard Look At Your Business And Business Partners
Many corners of the world’s stage are being seriously disrupted by the equalization of communications that social media allows. From the fall of governments to multi-national companies, rogue but empowered whistleblowers are calling it like they see it. Let’s not use this space here to argue about the accuracy of individual cases. Rather, let’s look at what’s happening and examine our own possible “truthiness” to our claims. Are we as green as we say we are? Do we have supply chain members who have less than stellar workplace records? Are our materials safe? In the very near future, it is going to be a very senior level position within organizations that get at the cold hard truth of our business practices, then determine how risky some of these sketchy claims and relationships are to our business. Assume each and every shortfall could become public knowledge in just a 140-character tweet. Assume a horrendous work environment of one of your suppliers is just one YouTube video upload away.

I’ve written about this before, but we are in the middle of some very awkward growing pains. We’re in between a long-standing era where companies had greater control over media and the stories that appeared within and, now, where the roles have truly reversed. Unfortunately, most companies still operate as though they’re totally in control of their brands and messaging. They aren’t. It’s just that simple. Dramatically changing your culture and processes to fit the needs of today’s consumer is really the only premise from which to begin your own internal business journey.

Equally important to remember is that, in the long term, a more honest, transparent marketplace is good for business, good for the economy, and good for the public and public trust.

Jun 18, 2013

3 Ways Real-Time Marketing Could Blow Up Bad

A whole lotta hype has been growing around the term “real-time” marketing since Oreo sent a single tweet during the Super Bowl blackout. Speaking of hype, Oreo won some fancy-pants award for it too, crediting no less than 13 people for sending a tweet. Did they each take a keystroke?

The fact that a brand sending a single tweet wins an industry award tells us much about the state of so-called “real-time” marketing—there’s not a whole hell of a lot of it going on. Of course, to those of us in the industry, my even mentioning the Oreo tweet is old news, like saying the Palm Pilot is a pretty nifty device. But the story is so much larger than a tweet or a Facebook update: Can brands actually keep up with the torrent of content that’s being generated each and every minute?

The answer is quite simple: No. At least, not yet. Let’s dig into a few ways in which real-time marketing can’t happen, unless a few things change.

Not Everyone’s Important
Not every tweet is important. Not every tweeter or Facebook updater or Instagrammer is important. There, I said it. There’s absolutely no reason to get all up in a bundle about a guy with no friends sitting in his mom’s basement blasting away at you. Now, on the other hand, if Vladimir Putin is all up in your business, then you need a response plan. Today, I see entire departments running around like head cases whenever someone utters anything critical of a brand. It’s not necessary.

Misassignment of Duties
OK. Forget about prioritization, it’s really all about the wrong people doing the job. At some point in a brand’s early experiment with social media, they realize they’ve delegated experimental responsibilities to the people who aren’t terribly integral to the business—namely, the part-timers and interns. Now, I understand like the next business owner that we need to keep these people busy in order to meet our obligations for their internships, but turn over the keys to the daily buzz in the marketplace to them? Not so much. I’ve seen it. While the interns are managing a community of thousands, their bosses are stewing over a brochure or trade show booth designs that perhaps hundreds will see.

The “Just What The Hell Are We Doing” Problem
Execution of real-time marketing—like Twitter feeds, LinkedIn, and Facebook updates—takes almost zero dollars to make happen. And that’s the problem. A gigantic mistake is only 140 characters away. So, does that absolve you from pursuing these dynamic conversations? Absolutely not. They should fire you up even more to actually have very well-thought-out goals and aspirations, aligned with the right people, who have the resources they need to do their jobs well. A plan that is fluid and responsive can set you apart in ways we’re only just now beginning to understand. It’s time to put your top thinkers, planners, and execution people on the job.