Some years ago, one of the smartest guys I know in the media industry used a surprising analogy to describe the business to me. He said media was really part of the transportation business.
The guy was David Verklin, and at the time, he was running Aegis Media’s Carat unit. It was before his crackle of change period, and at the time, it seemed to me that he was forcing the metaphor, but the more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve come to think that Verklin was right about the role of media -- and everyone who uses it to market brands to consumers.
At the time, Verklin said media services shops like Carat were essentially conveyance and logistics professionals whose job was to transport a message from a brand to a consumer. Now, in the post-advertising era of ad-blocking, content marketing, native formats and the ilk, that logic seems truer than ever before, because to mix another forced media industry metaphor, the information superhighway is busier, more congested and harder to navigate than ever before -- for both brands and consumers.
The reason I’m blogging about Verklin’s metaphor today is because I’m coming off a brand experience that makes me think it’s not just a metaphor, but a literal embodiment for brands -- and their agents. And it has something to do with the failure of a part of both the transportation and the communications businesses. I just returned from a trip to Italy and the brand I entrusted with my travel experience -- Alitalia -- failed me in both regards.
The first one -- the conveyance part -- was understandable, sort of. Severe weather conditions caused my flight from Florence to miss a connecting flight in Rome that was supposed to take me home on Sunday. As frustrating as that might have been, it was nothing compared to Alitalia’s inability to manage something that was within the brand’s control: communicating effectively along the way.
This is not the first time I’ve written about the failure of the airline industry in an RTBlog, and at first you might ask what does it have to do with real-time marketing and media. To which I would argue, everything. Because if Verklin’s metaphor is correct, there is no better time to demonstrate the real-time power of media to convey a brand’s message, then when the brand is one that actually conveys people -- or is supposed to.
I won’t tire you with all the breakdowns that happened in Alitalia’s communications along the way -- the near riot that occurred at the gate of the connecting flight in Rome when frustrated customers stood staring for nearly half an hour while our jet sat idling within view of us, but with the doors closed and no Alitalia staff in sight. During this mayhem, when one customer seized the gate’s public address system and began pleading to seemingly oblivious Alitalia agents standing an adjacent gate for help, I dialed Alitalia’s customer service number and was told by an agent (name withheld) that we should wait patiently and would board our flight in 20 minutes. As the jet pulled away from the gate, I said, “I don’t think so, because the plane is pulling onto the runway.” He replied by reassuring me I was wrong, because that was the information he had in his system.
Twenty-four hours later, I eventually boarded an Alitalia flight back to New York City, but what Alitalia conveyed to me in the process was that it was not a brand I could count on -- not for the physical product experience that was presumably out of its control, but for the brand communications experience that clearly should have been.
You could argue this is not a real-time marketing or media story. But I would argue back that if media truly is a brand conveyance business, then what better time to leverage real-time data to convey messages to a brand’s customers then when the brand’s product is a conveyance itself.And if you feel like I just wasted some of your time reading this RTBlog post, you can blame me for that. I had a better column lined up that you can read tomorrow. I would have posted it today, but I lost a day of my life thanks to Alitalia Airlines.