Commentary

Relevance Takes the Cake

Combine a provocative study with a blue-chip gathering of experts who have to weed through its ramifications and interesting things happen.

The American Advertising Federation (AAF) just released its second annual "Survey of Industry Leaders on Advertising Trends" (www.aaf.org). These are some of the conclusions: DVRs are altering the TV landscape significantly faster than anyone expected; online advertising and marketing will become a greater and greater part of the media mix to fill the void; attracting creative, quality, and especially multi-cultural talent will be as important as it is currently difficult.

This is hardly surprising to regular MediaPost readers, but what is important is that the survey was among 121 traditional advertising leaders across all industry sectors. That they now consider interactive advertising and marketing as if it were part of traditional media and expect over 17 percent of media dollars to go to online in three years is indicative of how much the world has forever changed.

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Kevin Roberts, the energetic and energizing CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi Worldwide, just moderated one of the more thoughtful exchanges I've been a part of when this study was released (you can see the full hour at www.aaf.org). It was a hell of a gathering: Susan Mboya, one of the leading voices in multi-cultural advertising as associate director, African American Multicultural Business Development at P&G; David Droga, the creative genius as global creative executive director at Publicis; Linda Thomas Brooks, executive vice president at General Motors MediaWorks, who has led some of the most innovative work from the auto industry; John Osborn, president and CEO at BBDO, and as much a leader in embracing these new worlds as anyone. Some how I slipped into the mix.

At the essence of the entire discussion was how the individual rules the day - and the significance of which media or which message matters starts with the proposition that it must help the individual. As I have written previously, we are all our own aggregators now and see what we want to see.

While the media and marketing world has always paid at least lip service to "the customer matters," the technology now puts the power in the individual's hands keeping our feet to the fire. DVR's, My Yahoo!, and the ability to move anywhere within one click are only the beginning. In Mboya's words, "the consumer needs to get something back." Droga was blunter: "relevance is the only word that is important to me."

The panel debated the importance of ad creative in this new world, how to reach people whose behavior, especially online, is fast, targeted, and, in a word often used, "transactional." Making ads and marketing products in any medium not merely "emotionally engaging, but emotionally "relevant" - defining a brand in any medium on the medium's terms in ways that individuals want to see them - is the goal.

Is it not possible that folks will one day TiVo paid programming that matters to them? Are the pull, Web marketing experiences like Jerry Seinfeld's apartment and Burger King's submissive chicken not signs of much to come? In both scenarios, it is about creating experiences the individuals in fact want, find useful and, therefore, seek out. In these worlds, the biggest metric for success may be the simple question: "did you see it again?" And the technology will allow us all to measure and know the answer.

We debated the differences between the lean-back behaviors of watching television versus the lean-forward of the computer. Does it matter, and if so, how should it impact advertising creative? "We are all now thinking about the instant reaction," Droga noted, "focusing on what do you want the individual to do in any given experience." An emotive visual experience may be different than when you want someone to play a game, fill out a survey, make a transaction, create an off-line behavior. The right message must be, again, attuned to the right media in ways useful to each person we are trying to reach.

The group debated product placement both on television and film, as well as in gaming. What research matters, how it can be effective, why so much advertising "really sucks" were all put out there in the bluntest terms. The importance of in-store branding experiences, and how Apple among others dominates here, were added in the idea of the holistic advertising and marketing planning.

It was an exciting and important exchange. And, for all the problems with the advertising industry these days, it was highly encouraging. Check it out.

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