Column: Dishing

Riddle question: how is a TiVo like a microwave oven? Answer: Both were predicted to nuke an industry, but doomsday never happened, and never will. One of my first account assignments back in the Advertising B.cC. days (Before Cable, Before Consolidation, Before Context Planning) was on a microwave-oven account. Microwaves were all the latest rage, and the kitchen-appliance industry was aghast that the microwave would spell the death of ovens, toasters, and cooktops (back then, prosaically known as "stoves") as consumers worldwide were expected to soon prepare all foods requiring heat -- literally everything -- in their microwaves.

So when's the last time you cooked your Thanksgiving turkey in a microwave? American industry is fond of doomsday predictions whenever something new enters the marketplace. In 1981, the kitchen-appliance industry was going to be melted down by a little 2' x 3' x 1' metal box. In 2005, it's the advertising industry that's tolling the death knell over an even smaller unit: the digital recording device (dvr). But just like 24 years ago, the pundits will prove to be better at provoking than predicting. Before we all needlessly start pondering the color of our post-advertising parachutes, let's review some of our assumptions about advertising and consider how that digital recording appliance will reconfigure how we cook up our clients' messages -- and how to develop new recipes to make sure consumers continue to enjoy what our clients have to serve. No decent kitchen can house just one appliance.

Additionally, television can't do all the jobs that advertising needs to do. For years, many clients and creatives denied this, and, as a result, the tv medium consumed an ever-increasing percentage of clients' media spend. Now we have to face the truth. Just as every kitchen appliance has an important job to do, so does every medium in the advertising mix. Print brings messages to target consumers in relevant, engaging, and high-production value frames. Radio -- when well-executed and well-placed -- can capture listeners' imaginations at just the right time or frame of mind.

The Internet can serve messages to consumers as they ride the path to discovery on topics that relate precisely to clients' brands. Ambient media can break through in bold and unexpected ways. And despite the explosion of video media, tv continues to play the role of America's entertainment melting pot -- the primary source of relaxation, information, and stimulation for the video appetite. tv may now be less the advertising "center of plate" than ever before, as consumers can zap tv commercials as quickly as they can reheat their coffee. But this doesn't mean that they will always do so.

Why? Because consumers actually do like and seek out some advertising, including tv advertising. But now more than ever, it must be good advertising -- lovingly prepared, artfully presented, and definitely not distasteful. In today's media environment, this could well be advertising that isn't necessarily served and consumed in a 30-second sitting. It might be integrated seamlessly into the program itself -- not a side dish, but an ingredient in the main course. With creatively conceived and contextually placed messages, consumers will even be willing to raise their hands to consume advertising content that lasts as long as a six-course gourmet meal.

What does this mean for us? It means this is no time for advertising professionals to turn off the burners of invention. It's time to concoct a totally new advertising cuisine that leverages digital media's ability to tailor messages to a specific person, place, taste, and time. So before we gut our advertising kitchen, let's take a lesson from the mighty microwave: it's now a must-have part of every modern kitchen, along with three or four other appliances that were predicted to be history by 1985. Let's get on with crafting those inventive new recipes for the right messages at the right time. If we cook them with creativity and care, there will still be plenty of consumers who will relish what our clients have to serve.

Jana O'Brien is executive vice president and director of strategic research for GM Planworks, a unit of Starcom MediaVest Group. (jana.o'

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