In my last post, I got into the explosion in opportunities for brands to express themselves, and the very tip of the iceberg as pertains to the challenge that this situation presents agencies with.
This time around, I want to get into the more important part of this equation. The only people that matter are the people our clients want to receive their message. The audience. They are known as the target. Customers. But they are an audience. Once, there was an illusion that they were captive. They never were, but let’s pretend they really were raptly and exclusively glued to their radios while a sponsored show aired for the entire nation at one time.
The critical component of this notion hasn’t changed. People tuned in to hear these shows. And the authors of such programming created shows that they believed the audience wanted to hear. And they integrated sponsors in to fund the show. It’s gotten deeper and deeper, with more and more advertisers being lumped into shows on TV, and less effort to provide audiences something they valued enough to pay attention and more of a blind trust on the part of advertisers that a show will be produced and aired and ‘capture’ enough audience attention to make a buy worthwhile.
As the audience has shrunk for each produced piece, and gotten more and more specialized, the opportunity for advertisers has gotten more and more complex. They have no idea how to buy into web comics, video sites and most blogs. And that’s not a knock against advertisers. It is a real conundrum. The audience for these pieces are small, unpredictable, and geographically diverse in many cases. People can dip in and out, watch a video and click out. They can read 10 pages of an article without clicking a banner, even the most annoying interrupter, or in some cases without even seeing them.
So advertisers have tried to get back to the roots of advertising and be the main sponsor – by producing their own content. In a move similar to radio days, they want to be the star, or at least a co-star. And some advertisers do it really well, creating stuff that is really well written and produced.
But here’s the rub. These aren’t radio days. There aren’t only one option on one channel in one medium. There are billions available at any time. Or, at the same time. I have TV on, and Spotify shuffling through a playlist made up of 25 artists while I’m bouncing back and forth between writing this post and scanning RSS feeds of over two-dozen blogs. I am filtering information, and ignoring the ads. My brain can’t handle any more.
So you get two camps. Online, there is transactional stuff. It pushes forward the Click Here messages that lead to sales or sign-ups. And I will never knock that kind of site. It doesn’t apologize for trying to sell, and it shouldn’t have to. When I go to Amazon or Zappos, or to complete a transation, I am pleased when the person behind the site designed it to be simple to complete. I get my shoes, they get my dollars. Everyone is happy.
Then other brands produce crazy entertaining fare. I watched about two minutes of a Red Bull video today, the same way I’m half watching Inception on TNT right now. Half engaged. Not really sure what the point of it is. But not going to buy anything as a result.
Inception is a flawed movie. It’s on mostly because I can’t find another better option and I’m bored of looking. It’s white noise. Tom Berenger is in it. It has commercials and mostly what I’m thinking as I half hear them is that they don’t make sense here. I still expect the commercials I see to apply to me. The consumer has won, after all. I’ve been hearing that for 10 years.
I don’t feel like I’ve won. Mostly because I didn’t realize I was in a contest against brands. I half-watch things like this Red Bull video, which I can appreciate for the scale of what they produced. I do not dare critique the video on any terms. It is honestly amazing. But it will never make me drink Red Bull. Or think about drinking Red Bull. I suppose people who drink Red Bull would like the video more than I do. But then, they already drink it. So who is it for? I suppose it’s effective, like the original radio shows because it is produced specifically for an audience that will appreciate it. And in this case, share it.
But how many brands are producing differently shaped commercials and expecting people to appreciate them. Writing blogs, tweets, or making videos that are just ads? As an audience member first, and as a creative person, no one wants to see more ads. The reason I respond to Zappos is because it’s helping me accomplish the task of buying shoes. The site is not a trick. When I go there, I am shopping and likely buying. It is commerce focused, but created with what I wanted to accomplish in mind.
The audience gets most frustrated (this is the part to copy and paste as you retweet this, dear reader) when they don’t know immediately if you are providing genuine entertainment OR wasting their time with a three minute and 54 second ad. Once you enter the “content” space, you’re not in competition with other energy drinks or shoe stores. Well, you still have your natural competition. But you’re also in competition with Funny Or Die. Takashi Miike. The Voice.
And you may create something pretty interesting, for a brand. But if it’s not up to the standard set by this new competition, the competition for precious attention, save your money. No one will be watching.