When it was easy it was still overwhelming. Even with the old media empires and a few standard shapes and sizes of what were then known as "ads", it was a near impossible task to produce something you could be proud of. It was still rare. There was TV, radio and print. I started my career in the apocalypse of this time. The end times. We knew it was happening, but we didn't know what was happening.
This isn't a good-old-days piece. F that. I was there. They weren't so much better than now. Like everything there are plusses and minuses of every situation. But realistically, to appreciate the plusses of today, it helps to understand where we’ve come from.
In the late nineties, I can remember a media buyer telling me they were frustrated by the rampant fragmentation in the industry. And what she meant by that was roughly 1/1,000,000th of what we understand fragmentation to mean now, and who knows what percentage of what it will mean in another ten years. What she was referring to was the explosion of new print publications that were popping up to reach special and focused interest. 20 publications for hip-hop, running, biking, Caribbean travel, new cable channels. Each one purporting to reach a more specialized audience, but each taking another bite out of the overall budget.
Looking back on those days, it was a dream compared to what we deal with now. We've got more apps, platforms and possibilities than ever. No one is sure what is part of a media plan or a digital strategy. Marketers aren't sure what is in bounds or out of bounds. And the ad and tech press look to anoint every single new idea as the killer of some previous idea. A previous idea which is still up and running by the way. As it turns out very few of these killed technologies actually die off completely. So there are an unending number of options and ways to communicate to an audience, and no real way to know which ways are the best or are even effective.
A lot of those publications and channels that media buyer was worried about are still going. And now there are an army of web properties for each of those interests as well. More than you can realistically know in any detail. Even just trying to find a good tool to illustrate for you which web properties are out there will bury you in results before you dig in to the actual research.
Then of course, there are phones. How many apps do you have? The average user has 40-ish according to a recent study I found on Google and don’t dare cite. Let’s say 40 is an accurate approximate number. Good luck knowing which ones. Or which of the 40 they have that they ever open. Or which of those that they would be happy to see something that resembles an ad on.
I look at something like Instagram. I love it. As a smart phone user. As a wanna-be photographer. As a human. I could probably spend more time browsing Instagram than anything else on a phone (not so much on the desktop, where somehow it’s just an average space with plenty of competition). Like every other success in the interactive world, the ad press wants to make it the star of the next batch of media plans. Brands are getting on board, and that makes sense for some. Like apps about five years ago, Instagram will appear in every new business pitch in 2013. But I don’t want to crap up Instagram with ads. Or brand images. And I don’t think most users are there to get served ads. What I know is, I just haven’t seen anyone do anything that breaks the convention there yet. Once we see the great idea that makes sense on Instagram or (better yet) advancing just a part of a campaign, the avalanche will really begin.
Most brands can’t figure out how to make their message relevant on apps like Instagram. And so for a while, every meeting had an app being presented. And there are a few successes. But most brands learned that what comes along with creating an app to market their product is marketing the app itself. The app is a product that has to be marketed to spur download and then adoption, so that a user might interact with it and take away a brand message.
That’s not to say that Instagram is wrong. Instagram is great. Creating your own brand app is great. But neither option, nor any option can solve a brand problem on its own.
Transmedia Storytelling was introduced years ago. The buzzword has faded but the notion behind has survived. Once, we challenged ourselves to come up with a campaign idea that stood alone as TV, Print and Radio. Since, we’ve continued to add in elements that actually work together to move a brand story forward, and aren’t just matching luggage. The smartest among us able to tie in a few key platforms. But the grail is storytelling across all the platforms. And where we once needed to be experts in three media and know a fourth, we’re now responsible for a never ending parade of tools, apps, sites, games, blogs, experiences and whatever other words I’m not hip to yet.
And for most of us, the budget to cover all of this new ground is lower than ever. More with less is what we keep hearing. Less keeps shrinking because we continue to somehow achieve with it. But we have to accept this challenge, because it’s not going to get easier. And every year, we continue to see examples of teams that somehow choose the right combinations of messages and tools and create something amazing. How much of it is luck and how much is skill? We’ll never know for sure.
The upside is that anything is possible. The downside is that anything is possible.