Column: The Department -- Summer-ize Your Thoughts

As unimaginable as this seems, by the time you read this, the majority of summer will be over. I assume you share my dread of the end of summer; nearly everyone I know anxiously counts down the months of spring (or weeks, here in Minnesota), only to find themselves lamenting the onset of September in what seems like a blink of an eye.

Given that we're not students anymore, whiling away the summer doing nearly nothing, why do we share that pit-of-the-stomach feeling the minute we know autumn is imminent? I mean, a vacation week or two aside, for the bulk of the summer we still have to follow our normal workday routines.

But it's in the upending of that very word  routine  that the magic of summer lies. Because despite the seemingly normal rhythm of our days, during the summer we allow ourselves some breaks from the norm  moments when we sample, taste, try, and challenge convention in all kinds of ways, whether it's through the food we eat, places we go, books we read, or activities we pursue. The regular habits don't go away, exactly, but they fade into the background a bit more than usual. We let ourselves off the hook. We need this, I believe  the opportunity (or the excuse) to question and even reject our rules and habits. It's invigorating, and it lets us stretch our own personal boundaries in a way that's healthy, even essential.

Now think what might happen if we introduced this kind of behavior into our media thinking. What if we started to try new things, even in small doses, just to see how they might work? Or if we allowed ourselves to veer from the expected, rejecting the "that's the way we always do it" argument just once? In other words, what if we "summer-ized" our media thinking?

I can imagine some pretty cool stuff might develop...

>> Maybe we'd see targets defined by something more meaningful than demographics. Think about it: When was the last time you honestly believed that a consumer's brand choice was motivated by his age or income? It's absurd in this day of marketplace choice and abundance. We need to see more media plans aimed at the most economically viable target audience, regardless of demos.

>> Maybe we'd all accept that the best media idea doesn't always fit neatly on a flowchart. When Fallon Media client NBC Universal came to us seeking a media plan to help strengthen the ratings of CNBC's crown jewel, "Squawk Box," convention dictated we should have offered a flowchart chock full of like-minded business media. But we didn't bring NBC a flowchart at all; we didn't even advise advertising the show. Instead, we recommended a stock-portfolio game, created in the style of fantasy sports and timed to kick off with the NCAA basketball finals. To play  to play well, at least  required watching the show and tuning in to the Web site; it was a cyclical deal. The game tapped our young-Turk target's competitive spirit, and it worked to drive ratings, too, lifting not only the program but also the entire network even after the promotion ended.

The point is, even though we were asked for a media plan, what we delivered was the best solution to the business problem. And we were blessed with clients who understood that and got behind our recommendation immediately. How great would it be if that kind of agency and client thinking weren't so rare?

>> Maybe more media people would become creative problem solvers instead of "ad placers." In the example above, had we believed our job was to place ads, we would never have come up with the fantasy game idea. Yet it can be hard to rein in the tendency to be media people in the classic sense. We have to be relentless with ourselves, consistently asking, "Have we assumed too much?" or, "Are we being TV guys again?" Often when we stop to do this, we find that we're unknowingly falling into old habits. 

>> Maybe we'd drop our fixation on finding "the" answer, and finally replace black-box tools with genuinely inspired thinking. If it were truly summer in our media minds, wouldn't we stop spending so much time and energy replacing the broken metrics of the past with the equally lame measures of today? Would we seriously try to market tools that purport to measure subjective factors like engagement on a one-size-fits-most basis?

No doubt there's plenty more where this list came from. See what a little bit of summer can do?

Lisa Seward is the media director at Fallon, Minneapolis. (
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