making the old work with the new

NBC’s Million Second Quiz was a flop.

I can hear the pitch meeting now…

It’s a way to combine TV watching and online participation! It’s got an online element! It’s got an app! It’s like Words with Friends! It’s the new #hashtag buzzword synergy blockbuster!! We’ll promote it until people are sick of hearing about it!

And without all the hyperbole, I agree. On paper, it should have worked.

However, I’m a trivia game show buff and I’m fairly well plugged in. I’m smack dab in the target market. But I watched about 15 minutes of it and thought, ‘Meh’.

Why didn’t it connect?

On first glance, I suspect it’s because the nation has achieved Ryan Seacrest over saturation.

But realistically, I think it’s because just like gathering together some eggs, flour and sugar doesn’t make a cake, putting trendy elements together doesn’t make a hit. There has to be something greater there. It has to be something people want to invest in.

I think the over promotion of it hurt as well. The promos felt like a mother standing in JC Penny trying to convince her son that the husky pants were cool.

And a reason that continues to pop up is that media still have no idea how to adapt. Trying to stick real time competition and app play into a TV show is like the newspaper or magazine promoting that you can flip through ‘pages’ on their site or app. It’s the old “try to wedge the old thing we know how to do into that new thing the kids are talking about”.

It’s a good lesson for all media. Stop trying to build new things on old foundations. Take your existing equity to develop a new base and build from there.

the one where I talk about kotex

When most brands try to integrate their social media and traditional marketing, it’s … awkward.

Here’s a current commercial for a brand and a product I am biologically unable to connect to:

You know what helps says the hipster female comedian … Come on, ad guys.

Anyway, the spot ends with the call-to-action of “Tweet #KotexforReal“.

Really? At some point, there was a meeting of ad and social media gurus where someone said:

Let’s integrate our traditional TV ad buy with a hashtag to synergize the social experience and empower our customers to connect with our brand and talk about their menstrual cycles.

Sounds like the bookstore from Portlandia.

So I’m watching the TeeVee while I’m on the Twitter and the spot comes on. I check the hashtag.

95% of the tweets are from 14-35 year-old males who are ridiculing the spot in a vulgar way.
3% are a variation of the tweet, “The TV said I should tweet #KotexforReal”. (which is scary).
The other 2% are #TeamFollowBack and spammers.

Does a personal hygiene brand really want to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for a TV spot that generates “free” social media mentions like this?

When you try to astroturf social media buzz, you WILL get your hashtag hijacked. Social media marketing conversations are just like any other marketing conversation with consumers. If they’re transparent, they will fail.

It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from Hugh MacLeod: “If you talked to people the way advertising talked to people, they’d punch you in the face.”

creepy fancy feast

The first time I saw this my immediate thought was that it was some sort of joke. But the punchline never came. It’s real.

Obviously, I’m not in the target demo of “cat lady wanting love”, but I’m dumbfounded (and a little creeped out) by it.

Yet I can’t quite put my finger on the problem. The big thing is that it’s just so over the top that it stops being effective. From the music to the looks on their faces to the entire creative concept, it seems like a parody as evidenced by my initial reaction.

I think the casting is a big issue as well. AdFreak is calling it the WASP-iest ad ever created and says “feels like a housing association’s welcome video for living the Hamptons”. I agree.

The media placements have included shows like ABC’s “The Bachelor” where the target demo has already opened the tender parts of their heart. Maybe it’s a genius ploy to associate the Fancy Feast brand with strong emotional ties while the consumer has her defenses down.

There should be alternate male P.O.V. version where the guy expresses remorse that he took the trouble to paint and redecorate the room after the stains and smell set in. (As Hank Jr. declared, “and I’m against cats in the house.“)

And in case you’re not sick enough after just the :60 broadcast version, there’s a 2:42 extended cut!

learning marketing from local media

So your {insert local media outlet} is offering a free seminar that will “teach you how to market your business”.

How benevolent of them to offer such a community service.

I’m amazed at how many small businesses are suckered into attending these events and don’t realize the true motivation behind the “seminar”.

If the radio station is sponsoring this knowledge fest, I’ll bet you my hat that they will try to convince people that radio is the best option. The newspaper seminar will tell you the printed word is the way to go. The TV station’s seminar will tell you why radio and newspaper are a waste of money. And now added to the mix, you have agencies that have a small social media following teaching the way to Facebook and Twitter bliss.

Think about this: Would you go to the “How to choose the best place to buy a car” seminar hosted by the local car dealership?

The truth is that every advertising medium has strengths and weaknesses. It depends on what you’re trying to communicate and who you’re trying to reach.

Just because a salesperson has the words “marketing consultant” on their business card doesn’t mean you should listen to them about your overall marketing strategy. They’re doing their job trying to capture as much of your marketing budget as they can. You should never let someone sell you advertising; you should buy it.

The only reason to ever go to the local media outlet’s seminars is that they typically offer some really good deal to the attendees. If you’re planning on buying from them anyway, it’s a good way to save some money. It’s like going on vacation and sitting through an hour of a timeshare pitch just to get free theme park tickets.

And shame on marketing speakers who lead biased events like this.

numbers are not what they used to be

The television event is dead.

After ABC heavily promoted it as the television event of the decade, the final episode of LOST on Sunday night was seen by about 13.6 million viewers. To put that in perspective, the final episode of Mr. Belvedere in 1990 had 13.8 million viewers.

While I suppose it would be an interesting treatise to compare/contrast the relationships of Jack / Locke / Sawyer to Belvedere / George / Wesley, that’s not the point.

Sure. LOST is probably an odd choice to be using as an example of the decline of the TV event as this last season had lost its sizzle. In addition, it was difficult for the masses to be real fans of the show because it took effort to follow it. And as it turns out, the core fans were victims of a long con by Damon Lindelof , Carlton Cuse and JJ Abrams.

If you haven’t done so already, you need to rethink the concept of audience and what numbers really mean. (but not these numbers 4-8-15-16-23-42)

The audience is smaller, but that audience has been distilled down to a more pure verson of a targeted market. It’s not just about measuring eyeballs. It’s about measuring engagement.

You have to look beyond the actual show to see value. There was a massive amount of social media buzz surrounding the show. (before, during, and after) The finale overtook both the U.S. and international trending topics on Twitter Sunday night. In the week leading up the finale, it dominated entertainment outlets (both online and traditional). No recent TV show has had as much discussion and speculation as this one in recent history. 

Even with light audience numbers, advertisers paid a premium price for placements in the finale. And those advertisers paid special attention to their creative placements. Verizon sponsored messages from the show’s fans. I thought Target had some great ads that were really tuned to the media buy. (My favorites were the smoke and keyboard ones.)

Overall, the LOST finale was a good example of a mass media outlet being used to reach a niche audience. If big media is to survive, it’s something that will have to happen more.

connecting the dots

Another printed newspaper went away today and with typical media self-absorption, the paper reported their own obituary with an in-depth report complete with a full page front page farewell. This death comes on the tails of last week’s Pew Research report that apparently shows that the public is not concerned with the demise of newspapers.

First off, I think the reports of the death of newspapers are widely overstated — because they’ve been over reported by the subjects themselves.  The Narcissus Media demands that other news orgs report on other news orgs. So the Seattle and Denver news deaths were front page news from the NY Times down to the Podunk Weekly Times (circulation 51).  The editors of other papers were interested in the deaths of these papers so they thought you would be too.

Plus some of these papers (which are actually for-profit businesses!) needed to die just like some banks need to die right now. Over-consolidation and over-monopolization of newspapers have caused unrealistic expectations from shareholders of these bloated behemoths corporations. (Radio, you’re next!) The reality is that with more available media outlets some markets can no longer support more than one major daily newspaper. (but what about the San Francisco Chronicle, you cry? Prediction: If the Chronicle does go under, there will be a new nimbler newspaper pop up in its place within a month.)

Despite the naysayers — there will always be a market for news and information. Sure, now is a rough economic time for any industry that depends on ad dollars — but a sensibly run media organization that’s looking to the future will be OK in the long run. That doesn’t mean that information will always be printed on sheets of dead trees and thrown on your doorstep. That model is going / will eventually go the way of the dodo. I think the Seattle Post-Intelligencer is a good coal mine canary to see if a traditional newspaper can transition to a new distribution model.

Every pundit, guru, and almost everyone in media has put their two cents in about the journalism “crisis” and have come up with a plethora of ideas from micropayments to new distribution models to crowdsourcing. Some have merit and some are “just rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic” (a favorite phrase of the pundits). From my seat in the nosebleed section, I see that newspapers (and all traditional news media) have two main problems that need to be solved before the ship sinks:

Problem 1) — a house divided against itself cannot stand
I rail and rant against organizations that have no marketing/business strategy. And while having no strategy is a bad problem, there’s something that’s even worse — and that’s having two strategies. News organizations are particularly prone to this problem because of the supposed “editorial wall” (there’s a great post here about this problem). Walk into any traditional media outlet and ask 5 people what’s the organization’s plan for dealing with the new realities of communication, and you’ll get 5 answers that will be biased by the side of the wall they’re on.
REALITY: People read the newspaper for news. Go try to sell advertising in a paper that has no news content and see how far you go.
REALITY: Reporters want a paycheck. That Mac needs electricity to run. Advertising supports the economics of journalism.
SOLUTION: Every news organization needs to kill their separate internal tribes, come up with one war strategy that everyone agrees on, and fight the white man before he takes your land.

Problem 2) — the Brand has been forgotten
There’s a disconnect in perceptions when it comes to news coverage. While the news orgs are saying “You’ll miss us when we’re gone!“, the public is saying “uhhh, no we won’t“. It doesn’t matter who is right. But guess which group’s perception matters to the bottom line and staying in business?

Brand is perception. Perception is reality. What changed the public’s perception of the news brand into something they think they can live without?

Alot of people blame the emergence of online media for journalism’s current troubles. And while it’s a major factor, online is not what is killing newspapers. Newspapers saw the Internet coming way before you had your first AOL account. The trouble was that their first line of defense didn’t work in Web 1.0. When Web2.0 rolled around, they saw they missed the opportunity so now they’re trying to out amateur the amateurs — which is killing the brand image they’ve been cultivating for 50, 75, or 100 years. It’s not hard to find ameutuer-ish crap on the Internet, but it is hard to find sources of information that you’ve trusted for years.

The news media have not done a good job selling their USP. Instead of focusing on the one thing that they could do better than anyone else (local news), they wrapped 2% of news into 98% of other stuff that could easily be replicated by competitors and sold it as such.

The sale to the news consumer is not “you can’t get this type of information anywhere else”. It devolved into “buy a subscription and get a CD and an umbrella“.  News media have forgotten what they’re really selling so the consumer has forgotten as well. The public thinks they won’t miss the newspaper because the newspaper has cultivated a brand that they are the place to get the items that the public can now get other places in better ways. But there is no better way to get local news.

Problem 2 is the bigger problem and the one that will take the longest to fix. But the fix needs to start today.

Plus there’s a third problem of trying to fit old mass media models into new media which I addressed last fall.

congress is missing wheel of fortune

You probably already knew this — bu the government is made up of complete idiots.

I wrote a post last summer that proved the Feb 17th digital TV switch had been promoted enough that a 3-year old could understand what was coming. (literally)

But now that warm Obama glow has caused Congress (the opposite of Progress, as Nipsy once said) to push the switch back to June.

Sure — there were some issues with the converter box coupons. But after a MAJOR overkill of promoting the Feb 17th switch, if people weren’t ready — they were never going to be ready. And when they found out on Feb 18th that their procrastination had caused them to miss out on the wonderful thought provoking programming of network TV, they would have made the appropriate preparations.

Now — what it will be — is a case of the little boy who cried wolf. People won’t believe the June date either.

Just rip the BandAid off.

just use the other ad

Good points made in this Ad Report Card article from Slate about what’s killing the effectiveness of online video ads.

Just like “in the good old days” when all businesses threw up a website that was nothing more than a virtual version of a brochure, we’re seeing advertisers use old-school models of creative and scheduling to do video on the web. Instead of developing creative that’s made exclusively for the web, broadcast creative is retooled to work online. Or worse yet, web only content is developed using the ideas that work for broadcast.

As with the writer of the article, using these types of web video ads may be hurting those advertisers rather than helping them.

Even though it’s a new format, it’s the same problem that marketers have always created. People tend to believe the creative tack that works well in one medium will work in the others. Back when I was in radio, salespeople would sometimes hand me a client’s newspaper ad and tell me to produce a radio spot from it. Lots of small businesses lift the audio track off their TV spots to run as radio commercials. It doesn’t work. Each form of media (especially online) needs special consideration to play to that medium’s strengths and work on that unique audience.

mass media will never win on the web

Or at least they won’t think they’re winning because they’re still using the same yardstick for success that they’ve used for decades.

With broadcast and print media, success is measured in numbers with lots of zeroes on the end — both in terms of audience and cash.

Meanwhile, true success on the web is measured in (sometimes small) dedicated audiences.

The long tail does not fit the mass media model — in terms of audience or revenue. And yet, newspapers, magazines, TV, radio, and every other form of mass media have been trying to cram their square hole mass media model into a round online hole ever since the mid-90’s.

And they’ve been sitting in sackcloth and ashes since the start — lamenting that the web is taking over and they can’t replace the shrinking offline audience with a new online audience. And they worry that the old fistful of advertising dollars won’t follow that audience.

And they’re right. That audience and those ad dollars are gone. And the faster that mass media outlets stop trying to make those old models work, the faster they will find success.

It’s not new. We’ve seen it before on a lesser scale. Some huge radio stars couldn’t translate into being big TV stars. The Andy Griffith Show was better in black and white. No one wanted to hear what silent movie actors sounded like. But there was huge success and massive revenue to be found in the new worlds of television and talkies — when people stopped trying to cram the old model into the new.

Mass media needs to stop thinking about how to make people “read newspapers online” or “watch the evening news online”. They need to take a fresh look at what they’re doing. What does an online audience look like and how do they want to consume your product online? They need to “stop broadcasting and start narrowcasting“.