In years to come, July 27th 2016 may go down as an important date in the history of marketing. Maybe not so famous that people will remember where they were, but notable nonetheless. Because yesterday, The Australian newspaper carried the exclusive story that one of the world's biggest media companies was rethinking its "out with the old, in with the new" channel strategy. According to reports, the previous year WPP and their media buying teams had struck a landmark advertising deal with You Tube that looked a bit like a snub to terrestrial TV channels.
And now, a year later, the report says they might have had a rethink. it appears that the response rates from running television style ads on digital media may not be what was hoped. Whether it's the invitation to close the ad so you can get on with watching what you wanted, or news that a high percentage of people are watching Facebook videos with the sound off, this is the first sign that perhaps digital isn't actually the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
Call it a tipping point if you will. But it shouldn't really be that big a surprise.
It's been a common theme of our recent work with both advertisers and agencies that digital media and advertising are not natural bedfellows. Where job ads in newspapers and mail order ads in magazines were always seen as a valuable part of the product, it's just not true of digital media.
Thanks to the brilliant free service provided by Google, we no longer "browse" in the same way we used to turn the pages of a printed product. Google takes us straight to what we want. And then You Tube does it in pictures. The ads don't really fit in anywhere. Well not without being annoying anyway.
As a result, we've been very busy helping clients build content driven strategies that reach people in a very different way. And I don't mean programmatic buying.
Digital media owning advocates once tried to sell us the idea that people would somehow tolerate watching advertising on You Tube and pre rolls on newspaper websites out of gratitude for getting free content. Like me, the originators of those strategies were probably brought up on the Idea that there was no such thing as a free lunch.
But people aged under 25 may have a very different view. These are the people who've been brought up in a world where Google, You Tube, Gmail, eBay, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Trip Advisor and almost every single newspaper in the world are all free. And fast. Can you imagine watching You Tube with a 56k modem?
True, not everything is free. But an inexpensive Kindle subscription on Amazon gives unlimited reading and a monthly Spotify subscription for less than the cost of a Whoppa meal unlocks access to all the music anyone could need. And then there's Netflix. And Stan, Presto, ITunes, catch up TV and the rest...
But as we hear the WPP team may be learning, all those new media channels don't mean a bonanza for advertisers. Given the choice to watch an ad on a phone or to click to close it, what do we think most normal people actually do? How many of us have ever voluntarily clicked on an online ad of any kind? And more importantly, how many of us ever will again when we have Google at our fingertips. For free.
So if we're finally realising that digital advertising might not actually be the future, whatever will take its place?
The answer may be staring us in the face. In Australia, the Financial Review still gets premium rates to advertise elite jobs with a capital E. Vogue magazine, God bless it, remains the first port of call for fashion companies. A UK tailor is finding that inserting leaflets into newspapers and mass circulation publications works pretty well. And on Friday nights, Channel Nine can still demand top dollar for ads running in live sport. (Content that few league and AFL fans will save for viewing later).
Meanwhile, content rich global publications from the New Yorker to Private Eye to Tyler Brule's Monocle are leading a worldwide renaissance in quality journalism while at home we've never had bigger screens to enjoy Game of Thrones, Mr Robot et al in an absolute Golden Age of Television,(although sadly commercial stations in Australia don't seem cashed up enough to buy any of it)
Weird but true. Despite falling circulations and revenue pressures, to coin a phrase, the death of old media may be slightly exaggerated. All the advertising industry has to do now is rediscover ways to cram ads into it.
Plus ca change etc...
About the Author
Alun Probert is a media veteran and commentator. He heads up the GovCom group, specializing in public sector and mass market communications and coaches teams in effective marketing, communications and brand management. Find out more on alunprobert.com
The debate about whether people should be working in marketing roles without a marketing qualification is an interesting one. It's surely one of only a handful of professions where the conversation could even arise. When we call a local electrician or plumber, we assume they've learned their trade the old fashioned way. It's hopefully safe to assume that the nations leading architects, lawyers and accountants are also staffed by people with letters after their name.
So why would marketing be different?
In the age of the Gruen Transfer, everyone has an opinion on marketing and advertising. Thoughts on which TV shows are good and bad, why people buy things and what makes us more loyal to one product than another. Few people nowadays would struggle to define the different product positioning of, say, Audi and Skoda. And everybody understands that being able to buy a product from the States at half the price it retails for in Australia is a threat to our high street.
Because, of course, we are all consumers. We can all go through life without ever seeing an architects drawing or researching legal precedent. But everyday, we experience "marketing" in our day to day life. We know that it's cheaper to buy stuff from a supermarket than a convenience store. We understand why picking up a takeaway is cheaper than having it delivered. And despite knowing that we're paying more for the label, we continue to buy "prestige" clothes, golf clubs, cars and televisions.
So is it any wonder that everyone's a marketing expert?
I've worked in marketing all my life. It just so happens that having finished my Communications degree, I took a post graduate qualification at the British Institute of Marketing. In 1985. Before desktop publishing, before the Internet, before email and long before "digital". I learned the 4 or 5 P's of marketing and the work of Porter and Drucker. And since then I have run teams promoting and launching magazines and newspapers, run a product sampling and TV business and more recently spent a decade managing Government communications.
Much of what I learned at college 30 years ago is less relevant now. But then I've never been a fan of cookie cutter models and always treat each business challenge as unique. I struggle nowadays with the notion of "digital by default" as that's too much emphasis on channel. I struggle with the "freemium" model as that's too much emphasis on price. And so on.
I've sat in hundreds of meetings with creative types looking at different slogans and advertising ideas and had great fun experimenting with different ways of doing things. I've attached golf balls and tins of cat food to magazines (not at the same time) and paid someone to project an image of Kylie Minogue on public buildings. It's a fun industry to work in. But that's not the essence of marketing.
Something that my marketing education taught me is to have absolute polar clarity about the outcome I am trying to achieve. And to have a really clear understanding about how I'm going to measure it. I want to be that guy who does know which 50% of his advertising is working.
I learned the difference between strategy and tactics and the importance of understanding the part that each of the elements of a tactical plan play in creating outcomes. And the importance of understanding the relative value of each channel to help allocate funds accordingly.
I've since learned that logic and customer behaviour may not go hand in hand. How else to explain that during an "obesity epidemic", one of Australia's fastest growing franchises was Krispy Kreme donuts.
Or indeed to explain "Pokemon Go".
I've also learned that through review and analysis, products can be continually tweaked to better suit the tastes of the consumer. To give it an edge in the marketplace. Students of the astounding success of lads magazine FHM (funny, sexy, useful) a few years ago are always surprised to learn that the first five issues had a bloke on the cover. It's equally easy to forget as Hollywood releases the third Steve Jobs biopic, that for years Apple had just 5% of the world's computer market.
Sometimes, things just don't go to plan.
Do people in marketing need qualifications? Probably. but there's no denying the value of experience and there's no better way to learn than recovering from your mistakes. But one thing is for sure. Truly great marketing isn't half as easy as it sometimes looks. Anyone fancy a Cherry Coke?