Of Bulls, Bears And Flappy Birds

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, 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, was the medium.

Likewise, eBay's AdChoice, which serves ads on the eBay auction/retail site based on user activity, and'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.


6 comments about " Of Bulls, Bears And Flappy Birds".
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  1. Stephen Block from Amazon Partners, February 25, 2014 at 9:10 a.m.

    Nice post, Bob. And nice that you apologize to Sealy some 20 years down the road. I've never read an admission like this after the statute of limitations expired. We've come a long way since the Admiral Corporation's "Admiral Broadway Revue," the precursor to "Your Show of Shows" -- these were before my time. I agree completely with your observation that 'networks' have lost their monopoly on content, as brands are stepping up again. This may be the brave new world for the reinvention of agencies.

  2. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER, February 25, 2014 at 11:24 a.m.

    Coke can always a medium. (Your message goes here.) Surprised they haven't sold half the can's surface to ad messages. Agencies are always being reinvented, usually because of new media, but for lots of other reasons too. As the great Greek copywriter Heraclitus put it: You never step into the same agency twice. AS FOR YOU, BOB. This new medium for you has made you better. I enjoy reading your stuff more than when you were doing Ad Age.

  3. Gabe Samuels from Gabe Samuels, Media Consultant, February 25, 2014 at 1:22 p.m.

    Bob, I always (well, almost always...) enjoy your literary output. This one is no exception.
    But.. to paraphrase your admonition to Peter: You are mistaken. Television is a medium. Magazines are a medium. Agar-agar is a medium. CareFirst is a health insurance exchange and is a seller of sunglasses. The fact that the first is piggybacking on the second means no more than what we used to call “Editorial Environment” . Remember?
    So you were dead right 20 years ago and you are totally wrong now. But don’t feel bad, 99.3% of your readers love what you are saying.
    As for me, disintermediation is just a word.
    And the medium that you are ignoring is called “Internet”. People pay good money to advertise on it. So Coke is not a medium, nor is any other brand. The means of communication is the medium.
    Still, thanks for Flappy Bird. I’d spend more time with you but I gotta go back.

  4. Abdulwaheed khan from bitly, February 25, 2014 at 10:20 p.m.

    lI almost enjoy your litery post.

  5. barbara read from Wikia, February 26, 2014 at 9:46 a.m.

    Bob, my father John Bergin is rolling over in his grave. Coke, Red Bull, Shades Daddy and CareFirst are all advertisers. Brands are now creating and generating content and that content is consumed in a variety of ways all via media. The channel is the medium, so for CareFirst ads - the Internet as the medium - not ShadesDaddy, nor is ShadesDaddy content...I would argue ShadesDaddy is more like Walmart in this case....and advertiser.

  6. Mike Einstein from the Brothers Einstein, February 26, 2014 at 5:22 p.m.

    Here's a good one. Name the brand, the advertiser, and the medium that comprise a pair of Nike Air Jordans?

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