Let's make this fast. I am up to almost 5 on Flappy Bird (officially 1) after only four days, and I'm confident that I've got the hang of it. Still, I'm obliged to take a brief break from repeatedly accidentally killing a crudely animated canary in order to eat some crow.
Peter Sealey, I owe you an apology.
Surely you remember him. He's the Bay Area consultant and former Hollywood executive who back in the early ‘90s was the CMO of Coca-Cola Co. At the time, in addition to presiding over history's best Coke slogan (Always Coca-Cola), Peter was flogging what he called a “New Paradigm” of marketing, in which brands like Coke were not merely goods but media unto themselves. As a commentator on such matters even back in 1993, I responded to the man's vision according to both my thoughtful analysis and critical instincts. That is, I made fun of him.
“No, Peter,” I said from many a lectern. “You are mistaken. Television is a medium. Magazines are a medium. Agar-agar is a medium. Coca-Cola is soda pop.”
Cue the laughter and applause. My column on the subject, if I recall correctly, was headlined “Brother, can you paradigm?” Oh, how clever I can be while being myopic and wrong. Mind you, that was 11 years before I joined the guy in the fearless-visionary racket, but I'm embarrassed about not just my failure of imagination but my arrogance. Can you believe I was such a dick?
No need to answer that question.
Seriously, keep it to yourself.
The point is, amid the ongoing collapse of the legacy media, and the abject failure of new media to sustainably and profitably rise from the wreckage, Peter Sealey's nutty paradigm is suddenly looking prescient. From “owned” branded content to third-party ads on retail Web sites to the resurgence of email marketing to Coke's Facebook page and 12-ounce cans with entertaining messages, brands are using their own assets to speak directly to consumers without the benefit of an intermediary -- such as, say, TV or magazines or billboards or seatback trays. Why pay someone else to carry your freight when you can deliver it more efficiently and intimately yourself? Disintermediation, that's called. Skipping the middleman.
What triggered this revelation was a visit to ShadesDaddy.com, an e-tailer of sunglasses. While searching for Oakley Frogskins with clear frame and violet iridium lenses to give me the cocaine-addled ‘80s surfer look that so becomes my advanced age and tweedy sensibilities, I happened across an ad.
For Oakley? For other ShadesDaddy inventory?
Nah. For health insurance. The advertiser was CareFirst, the BlueCross-BlueShield insurance exchange, buying space not from the local paper or Facebook but from ShadesDaddy. Surrounding the ad units, the “content” was an e-store. Yes, ShadesDaddy.com was the medium.
Likewise, eBay's AdChoice, which serves ads on the eBay auction/retail site based on user activity, and Amazon.com's $700 million in display revenue from 2013. On top of that, Jeff Bezos's e-tail superstore will run preroll video spots before Amazon Studios’ initial offering of digitally served programming. The advertiser, GEICO, is buying time on Amazon -- which is akin to Amazon buying time on GEICO. The likes of CBS and Comcast are left out of the equation.
Oh, and where Under Armour is concerned, equally squeezed out are Men's Fitness and Runners World, at least when the sports outfitter emails its RunKeeper blog, which is essentially a custom-published magazine delivered automatically to opted-in customers and prospects.
Then there is Red Bull Media House, which is just that -- offering videos, photos and live events consistent with the brand's hyper-stimulated adventure culture. Does this point to the diminishing relevance of independent media? Well, you know the lyric: “If that billy goat don't pull, Papa's gonna buy you a cart and bull.”
All of this brings me back to Peter Sealey, who saw it all coming. One wonders how he feels when he goes to YouTube and watches "The Polar Bear Film," a 20-years-later realization of his vision, trading on his most iconic advertising achievement. Produced by Ridley and (the late) Tony Scott, it was not a Universal Production or Sony or Paramount. The studio was Coca-Cola.
And all of that brings me
to where where I often land: shaking my head at the media’s current rush toward native advertising, which is just so pathetic and self-defeating. They are whoring themselves for pennies at the
expense of the very reader trust they are offering -- a degrading exercise that will eventually eradicate the very borrowed interest advertisers are seeking. If reach is dwindling, and the editorial
environment is becoming a brothel, and marketers go direct to the target, what reasons remain for marketers to depend on third parties?
That one you can answer if you like. But if you want a vivid simulation of what will become of ad-based media enterprises, may I recommend a nice, relaxing game? It’s called Flappy Bird.