Brands that don’t exist
I love Herbert Simon’s idea that we live in an ‘attention economy’. In a world where we are busier than ever, the ideas or brands that we choose to spend our time with have the most currency. Those that we choose to spend no time with don’t exist. This poses an incredible challenge for companies that are used to buying attention from mass media audiences that are declining every day.
Today we have absolute control over how we consume media and interact with brands. We can DVR our favourite TV shows and skip the ads. We can install the AdBlock Firefox plugin and ignore banner ads. We can choose what organisations we want to ‘Like’ and communicate with on Facebook. We download our music from iTunes. We get our news from the RSS feeds that we chose to subscribe to.
How can marketers respond to this?
There are a lot of stopgap solutions we can put in place. We can still reach consumers through interruptive mass media advertising, although it’s getting harder every day. We can experiment with new ways to make digital media more interruptive and more like traditional media. In the short to medium term these will work, but I don’t believe that they are really viable long-term solutions to the fundamental problem.
As far as I can see, there’s only one real long-term solution. We need to learn to create our own media. The terms ‘owned media’ and ‘earned media’ are not new and they are certainly in vogue amongst digital people right now. But very few brands are actually doing it.
There’s no doubt that creating your own media is unpredictable. When you buy 2000 TARPs from the TV networks, you know pretty much exactly what you’ll get. You can probably model the sales increase you’ll get from the TV buy pretty accurately too. But when you put 80% of your budget into creating content that will earn you media, you don’t really know what will happen. It’s scary stuff.
Luckily the skills that advertising agencies have learned over the past 60 years will be more relevant than ever in a world where we need to make our own content to create media. Audiences will continue to congregate around the most compelling ideas and content, it’s just that this won’t necessarily be a 30 minute network sitcom. It could well be something created by an agency.
The incredible storytelling skills that have been built up in the advertising industry will need to be applied in new and different ways. A lot of our work will still end up as linear video content, but instead of making one extremely expensive 30 second clip, we’ll need to make executions in any number of lengths or formats at much lower costs.
But sometimes the skills required won’t be storytelling - sometimes that brand will need to use technology skills to create a software platform that becomes owned media. The most commonly cited example of this is Nike+, which has become an integral part of the product and has brought new relevance to a brand that was rapidly losing ground with runners.
In any case, the thinking will always have to start with “what can we make that will be entertaining or useful for our audience?” rather than “how do we communicate this message to our audience?”
Some are getting this right. Wieden + Kennedy’s ‘Write the Future’ spot for Nike has had nearly 15 million views in just a few weeks. They spent $12 million (US) on production, and little or nothing on paid media. Fiat EcoDrive is a technology system that integrates into the car and helps drivers be more environmentally friendly, earning Fiat free media around the globe and bringing real credibility to their brand’s eco-friendly positioning.
The brands and agencies that figure out how to create their own media will ultimately survive and thrive as the currency of the attention economy rises. Those that don’t adapt won’t exist.
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