Marketing is Dead... Long live marketing to the masses

There's been some grumbling and mumblings in the last few weeks about major market advertisers looking at taking a new approach to their communications strategies. Proctor & Gamble has put their entire advertising efforts under review. At last week's AdWatch: Outlook 2004, major marketers like Pepsi and Wal-Mart said they are looking at new ways to market their wares through new branding innovations that may include non-traditional media vehicles. And McDonald's chief marketing officer, Larry Light, actually went so far as to declare "the end of brand positioning as we know it."

What all these companies seem to be indicating is that the way they've done their business of marketing all these years has to change. The methods of one vehicle, one message no longer seems to be doing enough work for these companies and a new mode of reaching audiences needs to be found.

"We don't need one big execution of a big idea," Mr. Light was quoted as saying. "We need one big idea that can be used in a multidimensional, multilayered and multifaceted way."



Though it sounds like he's talking about the strata of a Big Mac, what he suggested is that the way McDonald's wanted to start talking to their myriad audiences was in four distinct cultural "voices:" sports, fashion, music and entertainment.

What does this mean for marketing?

What this suggests is that the advertising industry may be bearing witness to the end of mass marketing as we know it.

The oft-mentioned ongoing fragmentation of the media landscape continues to consternate old guard traditional marketers and frustrates the standard methods of reaching audiences. It is getting more and more difficult to motivate action on the part of those audiences in great enough numbers to generate sales and instigate growth. This means the erosion of efficiencies that many marketers had come to expect with their complacency-driven media and marketing plans.

Audiences in greater and greater numbers are being found in smaller and smaller environments. People are more frequently found in greater concentrations in more niche settings than they once were. This means that the standard method of "speak loudly and carry a big stick" communications is no longer working.

Taking McDonald's' Mr. Light's approach of "brand journalism" through the layers of cultural voices as an example, marketing now may have to start to rely on quieter voices in smaller, more intimate places. What relying on media that represents repositories of cultural expression means is relying on mostly transient constructs that exist for specialized audiences that will ebb and flow with temporary zeitgeists. These vehicles are going to be necessarily niche in nature (like that alliteration?). That means no single one of them will be representative of a mass audience. It does mean, however, that many niches will need to be aggregated to represent the masses. MediaPost's Kate Kaye wrote last week that Dave Burwick, SVP chief marketing officer, Pepsi-Cola North America, indicated at the AdWatch event, dollars are expected to be shifting to media such as Internet, print, and outdoor advertising. Though cable probably deserves to be included among these, the trend-before-the-trend is looking to be a move away from mass marketing and instead marketing to the masses by collating niche vehicles that speak to smaller, more passionate audiences in languages they actually speak amongst themselves.

You no doubt can see where I'm going with this. What media offers the largest audience found in some of the smallest places? You guessed it... therapy.

No, seriously; the Internet is where marketers will invariably have to turn to accomplish a lot of the delivery goals that will be necessary in order to affect a business that can yield both efficiency and volumetric objectives.

There is so much the medium can do that still hasn't even been considered. To paraphrase Shakespeare, there is more to be done with interactive marketing than has been dreamed of in our philosophies.

In spite of my serious doubt in what ultimate success it might result in, where else could a major marketer have experimented with the Subservient Chicken? What other medium could let consumers pick the next new color for M&Ms?

It looks like we may see one hell of a renaissance for an industry that some marketers had declared still-born at the outset.

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