Advertising was once described as ‘salesmanship in print’. Given the explosion in media choices, we may have to revise it to ‘salesmanship in print, TV, online, retail, viral, ambient, search engine marketing, mobile, SMS, outdoor, radio and everything else in between’. There has been a quantum change in the way we consume media and brands over the last decade. Are we geared to address these changes? The answer sadly, would be a resounding ‘no’. The old advertising agency structure was based on silos – account management, creative and media. Some of the silos were the drivers of the agency, depending on its culture. Specialist units were then hived off deepening the rift between the silos. The consumer was seen as an amorphous group addressable through mass media. The consumer and her interaction with media have changed beyond recognition.
The consumer: I got the power
Much has been said about the explosion of choice – be it in brands or media. Beyond the numbers, the convergence of media and the growth in new technology is creating the new age consumer: the one with the power to make or break a brand. Yes, consumers could reject brands even earlier but the influence they wield today goes beyond mere rejection of the ad or the brand. They can influence brand fortunes like never before. The growth of blogs, social networking sites and opinion sites are empowering the consumer with not only information but the power to influence choice among their ‘tribe’. A classic example of this is the ‘Citizen Journalism’ which is all over the news channels.
Another example of this power was the change consumers enforced on Dell. In 2005, an influential blogger called Jeff Jarvis wrote about his frustrations with Dell on his blog. That post invited a flurry of similar rants about the company. This made Dell realize there were customer service issues the company needed to address. In April of 2006, Michael Dell charged Dell to proactively find dissatisfied customers in the blogosphere and connect them with someone at Dell who could help them. By July, Dell had launched its blogging efforts. The result: launch of Direct2Dell and Ideastorm projects. The former is a forum for users to talk to someone in Dell and the latter a compilation of ideas from the consumer on product enhancements.
The tech touch
Contrary to popular belief about technology being ‘cold and aloof’, it is being used to get closer to the consumer – make them feel special. Springwise, an online trend watching site, gives these two examples:
A pilot program in Seoul’s Shinchon neighbourhood lets customers place an order by pointing their cell phone at the items they want. Actually, it’s not quite that simple—they first need to download software to their phone and then, seated at their McDonald’s table, plug an RFID reader into the phone and aim their handset at a menu with built-in RFID chips. Items are automatically charged to their cell phone bill. As soon an order is ready, a message is sent to the customer’s cell phone, letting them know that they can pick up their tray at the counter.
In the US, a service from, Mobo lets customers order from restaurants and pay for meals using SMS. How does it work? Customers create an account, which includes their credit card details. After signing up for the service, they can order online via www.gomobo.com, or by text message/SMS. The order appears on the restaurant’s in-store Mobo system, and is automatically billed to the customer’s credit card. The restaurant confirms the order, and the customer receives a text message stating when the order will be ready for pick up.
Every Mobo restaurant has a separate Mobo Pick Up counter, so when their order is ready, Mobo users can walk straight to the counter, state their name and last four digits of their phone number, and pick up their food. For those customers that can’t leave the office, Mobo also delivers. Customers save time (which IS the new currency), get a bit of that oh-so-coveted VIP treatment with their takeaways, and vendors increase profits.
Mini, the passenger car also experimented with RFID technology in their billboards. In the US, new buyers of Mini were asked to give some personal details (like anniversary, birthday etc.). The RFID chip placed in the car would be recognized by a specially created billboard and would greet customers with personal messages (addressing them by name!). Such efforts are bound to make the consumer feel closer to the brand.
In India, mobile payments are a reality today. Services like mCheck are making life easier for the consumer and transforming mediums.
The access to information enables the consumer to closely analyze the product and compare before the purchase decision. Opinion sites like Mouthshut.com and recent efforts like Brandpower.in go a long way in making her take an informed decision. Another example of this in the US is the iTunes Music Store: when a user hears a particular song playing at his or her local Starbucks, he/she can instantly find the artist, album and name of the track on his iPhone or iPod Touch. By tapping the Starbucks button in either device’s main menu, the current song shows up, as well as the last ten songs played. They can be purchased and downloaded instantly via Starbucks’ WiFi connection. In India, retail advertising is on the rise and there too OOH displays can influence the last minute purchase decision.
With the mobile revolution well on its way in India, the chances of the consumer remaining online 24×7 is high. Can you imagine the impact this will have on searching and sharing information?
Meet the new creative director
This is not a rage in India yet, but globally the consumer is increasingly playing a role in brand communication. Brands like Doritos, Tide and Heinz are successfully using digital media to let the consumer play a role in brand communication. Tide2Go, a pen-like stain remover ran it’s ‘Silence the stain’ commercial on TV and You Tube and invited consumers to create their own situations where the brand could be use. They were given the necessary media files to download and voila! – they have made their own commercial. Dove’s ‘Campaign for real beauty’ is another example of embracing new media to create a buzz around the brand.
The implications for us
Now, more than ever before is the need for agencies to create ‘transmedia stories’. But what is being implemented are not true 360-degree ideas – they are more like lazy 360. Majority of the so-called 360-degree campaigns are about creating a TVC or a print campaign and slapping on visuals from them in other media. This is perhaps because many of us have not been able to get out of our traditional mindsets. Another trend is one of misplaced efforts – in attempting to get a 360-degree campaign, which becomes the be-all and end-all. The need to create a powerful idea – even if executed well in a single medium is forgotten.
We need to unlearn the traditional role plays in Creative, Account Management and Media. As communication becomes increasingly visual the need for the Copy & Art specialists to think as one, is even more. Agencies are also doing an about-turn from the days of separating the media team from the creative. Some media specialists have realized that online media requires them to create content too and they are going back to creating teams that comprise media planners and content creators.
In sum, agencies need to redefine themselves as content creators for the new consumer, focusing on stories that transcend a medium. And it’s time to exhibit salesmanship across media.