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Earned media roulette

June 28, 2012

Blogging about multi-colored Oreos seems to be trendy.  So we’ll play ball.  For background on what’s going on, see this article. Oreos posted a picture to show its support of gay rights on Pride Day.  A lot of people commented.  Some supportive, some not so supportive.  (Some examples of the not so supportive here.)

In the spirit of all press is good press, marketing experts are lauding the move, citing all the earned media Oreos has been getting as a result.  The brand has, after all, injected itself into the cultural conversation.  And isn’t that the point? Bloggers are blogging about it.  Writers are writing about it.  Facebookers are Facebooking about it.  I wonder, however, if it is for better or for worse.  Just as all press isn’t actually good press, all earned media is not necessarily good media.  I wonder if someone is asking what the real impact of all this media has been on Oreos’ key brand attributes.  Is there real brand lift?  Will the lift last?

I don’t want to start a whole political thing.  And look, there are brands out there that have formed their identity by associating with politics in aggressive ways (e.g. Kenneth Cole) so who am I to say it is a good idea or bad idea.  But its a big country out there.  And Oreos is a very pervasive brand.  They are freaking Oreos man.  This is apple pie stuff.  Being in favor of gay rights is admirable.  To say the least.  But I can’t help but wonder if, by associating themselves with issues of the day, the big brands, the ones that transcend and are already an integral part of our culture, aren’t diluting themselves.  At the very least the issues they do associate with need to resonate very organically with the brand.

Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of having lunch with Renee Milliaressis, currently at Mindshare and a pioneer in the media field and one of its smartest thinkers.  She’s helped navigate clients through trivial things like the rise of cable and internet.  So she’s got a little bit of perspective.  She said something that is, as with almost everything she says, immediately relevant (I am paraphrasing):

There are advertisers out there that had the great fortune of being able to build their brands over the course of the later half of the 20th century.  These brands don’t know how lucky they are.  And they don’t know how valuable what they have built is.  Because you will never be able to build brands that big, as cost effectively as they did.  They need to evolve, they need to stay relevant.  But above all else, they need to do so without diminishing what they will never be able to afford to build again.

Brand equity has never been harder to build.  Every time you engage, or spark a conversation, you put at least a little of that brand equity at risk.  Because you can never control how conversations go.  As a brand puts itself out there to gain earned media, it needs to ask itself what it really want consumers to do.  And then ask what kind of earned media will help drive consumers to do that.  Otherwise, you’re just rolling the dice.

The “Brands can be publishers” minefield

June 14, 2012

The idea that brands can be their own publishers and own their own media is a captivating one, made all the more captivating in the era of digital distribution and Youtube channels.  Rather than spending millions upon millions on media with a third party where you have limited control over the content, brands can have ultimate control over the environment in which they message, can create content that exactly resonates with their consumers, and can potentially save money in the process.

Of course, this path is riddled with mines. Just ask Budweiser about BudTV. The media business is tough. Even the media companies don’t do it well. And the content business is even tougher.  Attracting audiences nowadays feels like an exercise in futility.  So how are brands supposed to play in this arena that, frankly, those of us in the business wish we didn’t have to play in on most days?

BudTV is one answer.  Deanna Brown of Federated Media articulated an alternative vision really well in her interview with Brian Solis (see the video here):

“Brands, if they are transparent, if they are authentic, in the right context, can be conversational…that’s the notion of brands becoming publishers.  “

For an advertiser, the ultimate goal of funded content (versus the stuff you simply advertise against) is to create conversation (engagement) that drives specific consumer behavior in ways that scale.  Content is the spark or fuel for that conversation and the role the brand plays in creating that content will vary by its particular needs.  Sometimes it can involve taking a heavy hand in development.  Sometimes it can involve funding in exchange for integration of sponsorship.  Whatever the model, ultimately the brand’s first job is to be in a position to siphon off the value of the engagement the content creates.

Case study: recently, CPG brands modernized the old soap opera strategy and helped create an entire category of digital content focused around moms.  Rather than “get into the content business” by creating their own media platforms or by creating their own content, brands aggressively bought media around emerging properties that targeted moms.  Often before the audience had developed.  They spread their bets around multiple players in the category, and were simply happy with display advertising.  This allowed the media properties to create content, to attract audience and to build a community with authenticity.  As this community has grown, and the audience has developed, brands are starting to shift their strategy away from simple display ads, towards funding specific content that will spark the type of engagement they are seeking.

For me, there are a few simple points around the whole “brands can be publishers” idea:

  1. Building that authenticity that Deanna speaks of takes time, and goes beyond simply associating with the right content.  For classic case studies around authenticity look to Converse, Red Bull and Quicksilver.
  2. Becoming a publisher doesn’t have to mean getting into the publishing business.  Influencing the content experience doesn’t necessarily have to imply owning the media platform.  And owning the content isn’t even that important.  Owning the platforms where the consumer behavior that drives your business happens, however, is critical.
  3. The content is important, but the engagement is more important from the advertiser’s perspective.  The content should resonate with the brand, it should attract the right audience, and it should fuel the right type of engagement.  Beyond that, it is somewhat disposable.  What is paramount is the engagement that the content creates.  How will this engagement fuel earned media?  How will it help owned media efforts?  And most importantly, how does it affect consumer behavior in ways that helps my business?

Reach is disappearing.

June 13, 2012

Oh.  Look who’s blogging again.

Networks are starting to report the results of their upfront sales.  The fact that most networks held back a bit more inventory than normal notwithstanding, upfront commitments have been, by and large, flat from last year.  (See Deadline’s reporting about ABC here and CBS here.) The main talking points are of continued CPM increases and of digital continuing to play a more integral part of the offering.

But for me, there is a larger issue here that nobody is talking about.  I haven’t done 4th grade math in decades.  But if the total investments are flat, but the prices have risen, doesn’t that mean the amount of goods purchased has decreased?  Add to this the fact that more and more digital inventory is being bundled into upfront deals, and you can’t escape the fact that reach is disappearing right before our eyes.

If true, this has important implications.  Several generations worth of marketing strategy have been built around the concept of reach: reach enough people with a message enough times, and you will affect consumer behavior and your bottom line.  The reason this was so central to marketing strategies is because, in the era of broadcast is king and cable his queen, reach was a commodity that was widely available and easily acquired.  As reach becomes more expensive to buy and harder to create, marketers must begin to evolve their strategies.

So the question is, what do you replace reach with?  Engagement is a term people throw around a lot.  Brands are starting to focus on earned media and owned media to try to make up the shortfall in paid media.  There is a lot of experimentation and content’s role in all this is yet to be determined (and will probably vary advertiser by advertiser).  One thing is certain however.  We are in the midst of a shift in how advertisers market their brands that is much more foundational and generational than anyone realizes.

Another watershed event, brought to you by Netflix?

March 16, 2011

Netflix is about to beat out every network known to man for David Fincher and Kevin Spacey’s drama series House of Cards.

John Malone’s comments about Netflix basically being HBO 10 years ago turns out to be extremely prescient.  And this could very well change the TV distribution landscape for good.  But questions abound.  For example, how on earth do you market something like this without the ability to run promo on your own network, or without lead-in?  Maybe you run them before video streams, or include inserts in DVD mailings?  Risky marketing, but if this show ends up garnering a significant audience, I think it is game over for cable companies and, frankly, a few networks.  Who needs ’em anymore?  Also, how do you program something like this on the Netflix platform (assuming it is meant for the Netflix platform)?  Appointment viewing has always been an important factor in audience development.  Has the inflection point on that been reached?  Finally, I get needing to overpay to get into the game, but in the current TV environment, how on earth do you justify a 26 episode order???

One last question.  How will this effect the HBO/Showtime window that currently exists for movie rights?  Now that Netflix is directly stepping on their toes, will they seek to correct the advantage Netflix has?

Things are about to get even more interesting.

Read more…

Will the next three years be as productive as the last?

June 9, 2010

In Steve Jobs’ speech yesterday at the WWDC10, he was talking about life before the iPhone.  Carriers controlled what you had access to and there was virtually no web browsing to speak of.  There was no such thing as mobile gaming and social gaming was still in its infancy.  The email experience was rudimentary at best, and perhaps most importantly, the “app paradigm” was virtually non-existent.  In three short years, the iPhone is largely responsible for ridding the world of the AOL-like walled garden approach to the mobile web and creating a more app-centric approach instead.

I look forward to seeing whether three years from now, the iPad has changed the world as much as the iPhone has.  For this to happen, te device itself is going to have to progress.  For example, the iPad has no USB out, and 64 GB is not that much storage at the end of the day.  These hardware issues, along with more powerful processing are an absolute must.  The operating system is going to need to figure out how to provide user access to the file system and the trend towards lighter operating systems with API’s that push a lot of the responsibility of functionality onto the applications is going to have to continue.

While it may sound as though I am suggesting the iPad just needs to become more of a netbook, I am not.  At the end of the day, the iPad is always going to be a vehicle for applications.  Most of these applications will be portals to the web in some way, but these changes will allow developers to also create heavier applications, that carry additional functionality while connected and while not connected.

The iPad is largely a “connected” device, and that’s great in theory.  In reality, connecting via the wireless infrastructure is expensive and time consuming.  Connecting via wi-fi is a spotty experience.  These issues are not going to get solved any time soon.  And as much as the iPad will render the “mobile web” irrelevant, making it a much more functional “un-connected” device is critical.  Right now, getting files you want to work on onto the iPad is cumbersome.  And there are not enough resources to allow you to really do what you need to do with those files.

The other area where great progress can be made over the next three years is in entertainment.  The iPad can do for video what the iPod/iPhone did for music: create a user experience whereby video content can be made portable, and its viewing experience can be made pleasurable.  The iPhone’s tiny screen size is the primary barrier to that right now.  I can’t imagine it will be long before a quick look around the subway car yields as many people watching TV on their iPad’s as there currently are people listening to music on their mp3 players.  Allowing users access to that experience through Hulu or NetFlix, in addition to iTunes will be a welcome bit of openness from Apple.

Breaking news: broadcast spending on development up. Not so breaking news: ad model still broken.

June 3, 2010

There is a new article out about the increased dollars broadcast networks are investing in original production and development.  Basically, the tl;dr version of the article is that broadcast networks are increasingly becoming content R&D centers for media holding companies.  Razor thin margins on programming within the “broadcast” window leads to greater margins in other parts of the holding company business, including cable networks (where shows like CSI and Law and Order make their money back in syndication) and studio and production units where the rights to the content are held, and from where home entertainment revenues flow.  Furthermore, as networks begin to charge retransmission fees from the carriers, they have more money to spend on development.  Very valid points.

Read more…

They’re still milking this thing?

June 2, 2010

I don’t know who is to blame for this, but it must stop. Coke?  Mentos?  Eepy?  All of the above?

We get it.  Mentos and Coke make things erupt.

We don’t care anymore.

Also, what a waste of valuable coke.