Kids Deliver The Message Effectively

This past week I put on my "observational glasses." These are the glasses I wear when I'm trying to act like a student of the world and examine what's going on around me in an attempt to spot trends. I observe conversations around me, I observe presentations given in my presence, and I observe what I see on TV and what I read in magazines as well as what I see online. There were two trends which I observed this past week that left me scratching my head because they seemed to contradict one another -- until I remembered the most fundamental truth behind advertising.

The first trend I noticed was the abundance of advertising featuring children talking about grown-up issues. What stood out the most were TV spots for AIG in which kids talk to each other on the bus about their parents' insurance, as well as a spot with a kid who can't sleep because he is concerned about his family's financial planning. These spots are at least in part inspired by the eTrade ads from the last Super Bowl featuring the baby talking about the clown.



I understand why the spots resonate with me and (I assume) other consumers: the age-old idiom that children can only speak the truth. The delivery mechanism for the message is one that grabs your attention because it is an unexpected source. One of the oldest tricks in the book for creative is to deliver a message from an unexpected source, and these ads deliver it beautifully.

The second trend I noticed was a term tossed around in a number of presentation this past week; the phrase "content is king." I heard the phrase uttered in four presentations at SES, two presentations from video companies, and coincidentally in three blog posts by unrelated writers. The phrase is not new, but the fact that the digerati were all using it at the same time was interesting to me.

The Internet is and will always be a self-publishing medium. That is its power. The ability for anyone, anywhere to create and share information with other like-minded people -- and in this election year we're seeing more and more people sharing those opinions. In fact, we read and interact with each other based on whether we do or do not find particular content of interest. So that phrase is obviously correct; content is indeed king!

Yet having children deliver a message refutes the fact that content is king -- because it requires a gimmick to convey the message in an effective manner! The content of what those kids are saying is of interest to many people, but it would not have resonated with the target audience if not for the delivery mechanism. So if content truly is king, why do we need a gimmick?

That truly is the fundamental question raised by advertising. Advertising is about ensuring that a message breaks through the clutter, but we live in a cluttered environment. Content is king, but the delivery vehicle is queen. A colleague of mine always refers to it as the message and the media. It's the M&Ms, so to speak. We engage in the career of advertising because we have to! Content may be king, but just because great content exists doesn't mean that everyone will find it and take advantage of it.

This observation may seem elementary, but I also find that the most elementary concepts are the ones we tend to overlook. Many people in the VC community and many engineers feel that marketing is a cost center; that it is an unnecessary drain on funds that can be avoided because their ideas will naturally find the right audience. That is simply not the case! Remember another classic phrase, from the movie "Field of Dreams": "If you build it, they will come." That's just not true! There are hundreds of ideas created every day, and only the smallest fraction of those ideas becomes successful. It's not because the inventors of those ideas were incorrect, it's because they could not find the audience to make their ideas work. I say this because I've seen poor products succeed as a result of good marketing. Anyone else know about the Shamwow?

So when you're watching some TV this week and you see the AIG ads, or the other slew of ads featuring kids, remember that this is marketing: the message and the media. It's more than a good idea; it's about getting those ideas across effectively and efficiently.

Oh -- and do try to put on your observational glasses sometimes. Act as a marketer in the face of a consumer evening, see what trends you identify on your own, and share them here with us!

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