Monday, March 9, 2009

A history lesson?

I decided to check out what I could learn from the history of advertising in order to apply it to a thorny issue: how to incorporate marketing within social media. This is an important issue as social media will not survive forever in the current format unless they begin to realise some of their potential for earning a real share of marketing spend. I'm not sure what other people think, but I personally think there is every chance that Facebook will be extinct in 5 years, just as MySpace and SecondLife have never lived up to their promise, or managed to maintain their growth rate.

Anyway, I went onto Wikipedia and found an interesting article about the history of advertising here:

This is what I think might be relevant:

TV advertising started out as single sponsors for each show, each of whom could control a lot of the content, right down to their ad agency writing the entire show. Then one channel, who was not securing enough sponsors, decided to flog off small bits of airtime to different companies. Could it be that we are returning the other way, with digital media leading the push into single sponsors, branded content and away from having several different companies with their banner ads on the same page? Interesting symmetry there.

The birth of the "modern" 30 second TV commercial lies right there in the move from sponsoring and content creation into having to tell your story in 30 secs - which meant the importance of being creative, cutting through, and having a consistent USP. Again, as we reverse this and look at transmedia planning and content strategies, we can see the idea of having a single minded USP is no longer as relevant - brands have stories to tell. And brands don't always have to have exactly the same message in every medium.

Wikipedia's history of advertising also analyses the launch of MTV as a channel where people tuned in for the advertising itself - advertising of the music song. But I see that as a bit of a blurred line. Nevertheless, one has to acknowledge that there was a time before music videos, a time when the top 40 countdown had millions of teens glued to their radio. All takes me back to the singles I used to buy in the 80s - Adam and the Ants, the Eurythmics and Madonna all graced my record player back then. Could we say that websites for brands serve some of this purpose? Are they windows to the brand? For most brands I'd say not, they are mainly corporate. But for some brands their website does or can play this role of building interest, liking, and getting you to go out and buy it. The main difference of course is that the music is an end unto itself, rather than a brand having to make up something additional to be interesting. But maybe this is the real challenge for brands: to provide a total brand experience that is more than a physical product plus a marketing program - the brand experience would then be the sum of a number of parts, only one of which was the actual product experience. Cadbury Gorilla has a written case study which purports to this: the strategy was to create "A Glass and a Half Full productions" where Dairy Milk became not just a chcoloate bar, but also a producer of entertainment.

Lastly, we can see how google and ebay brought the "long tail" to life and have monetized it in a revolutionary way, so in one sense, the progress of advertising over the years has been one straight line from it being an activity undertaken by only the biggest companies, through a plethora of brands (and the advertising clutter issue) and now into the realm of every individual. If I want to sell my second hand fridge, I can very easily advertise it and get hundreds of people to view my ad. Whilst this has been available for years through Trading Post etc., ebay brought it up several notches.

Google is attempting to combine the long tail of content with the long tail of advertising by its Adsense program of putting ads into any piece of online content, but to me they still haven't got it right as far as user experience counts. It looks ugly and is rarely truly relevant. Ebay have the long tail of advertising right, although not as right as they used to think, but their efforts to expand up the tail to more corporate activity, e.g. auctioning advertising space, appear to have got little traction (certainly I am not aware of it in Australia).

So, perhaps the future of social media is to try and monetise the long tail rather than (or as well as) the large corporates? Perhaps big brands need to redefine themselves and evolve into more multi-dimensional experiences? And perhaps Adam and the Ants made the best song about highway robbery EVER.

1 comment:

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