9/18/09: The Day Advertising Changed Forever

I’ve often wondered when, or even if — interactive advertising would have its Lemon Moment. I’m referring to the day when the classic Volkswagen ad first appeared.

If you aren’t familiar with the ad, it was a fairly stark print piece. It featured the VW Beetle on a white background with the word “Lemon” written under it. The copy told the story: the particular car in the ad didn’t pass VW’s strict quality assurance standards and was therefore not shipped.

This ad came out in the early 1960s. The moment it came out and the revolution that it sparked was (beautifully) recreated in an episode of “Mad Men.”

Today, the ad seems fairly tame, but then, it was truly a breakthrough moment. It was the beginning of the Creative Revolution where advertisers didn’t simply stuff tons of features into an ad, but rather, they tried to connect with the consumer through a human truth and a need deeper than just “get a car.” This was a moment that split the advertising industry and sent you either down the path of creative expression or…well…not.

I’ve often wondered if we’ll have another one of those moments where advertising splits again. If we’re going to have a Lemon Moment where someone cracks through a barrier and shows us that there’s at least one other way of connecting with consumers.

I’m not wondering if that day will come anymore. I’m certain it will. I’ve got it circled on my calendar. The day that advertising will change (again) and force all of us to shuffle from one side to another is in about a week and a half, on Sept. 18.

Hello Print. My Name is Digital

The big deal that will happen is the new issue of “Entertainment Weekly” will arrive in the mailbox of New York and Los Angeles subscribers. Inside that magazine will be an ad hawking the new season on CBS (and Pepsi), featuring a small video player embedded in pages. Digital content has finally landed into a print magazine.

That’s not to say that print and digital have “converged.” Convergence is the amazing state of being that many have been clambering over, but this innovation clearly isn’t it. Convergence is when all sorts of different mediums fall into a single experience, sharing content, data, and functionality seamlessly.

Having a small screen powered by a digital chip isn’t convergence by any stretch. The CBS/Pepsi is more like a digitally-enabled free-standing insert (FSI) than anything else. The digital ad is best viewed as an enhanced version of the circulars slotted into a Sunday newspaper.

This is a significant step in the evolution of advertising, even though it has little (if anything) to do with converging mediums. What it has to do with is something that is actually far more interesting to advertisers: ubiquity.

Let’s Go: Everywhere!

Interactive marketers have long felt hamstrung by the very technology that enables our business in the first place. In the early days, “going online” meant carving out a chunk of time to sit in front of your computer to do things.

People would often collect lists of Web sites all day long as if they were planning a trip to the grocery store and didn’t want to forget to pick up almonds. The interactive experience had to be had at a certain place, with a certain tool.

Today, we’ve nearly blown that paradigm completely away, thanks to cheap computers, wireless Internet connections, and smart phones. But the interactive marketing experience still relies upon a person having the right device at the right time to do the right thing.

Ubiquity is the opposite of that. Ubiquity means that something can be found “everywhere.” The emergence of these small, simple, and (relatively) cheap screens and chips means that publishers and advertisers can start thinking about how small bits of purpose-built interactive experiences can be delivered without having to worry about someone’s ability to access their device.

We can start sprinkling interactive experiences all over the place.

What Could Happen

We’re going to talk more about the potentials of the CBS/Pepsi way more than we’re going to talk about the ad itself, or even its effectiveness. So, let’s get that discussion underway. Who could benefit from the ability to field an ad, in print, that has digital technology?

Well, certainly content producers like CBS. It’s interesting to hype upcoming shows, but it may be even more interesting to bring new fans into shows by letting them go deeper into the stories or characters. A companion guide to an upcoming episode of CSI, for example, could be enormously engaging, giving potential viewers background information that will get them more excited to watch.

Any brand that has a long and deep purchase cycle can certainly benefit. Imagine a brochure for the new Lexus that not only has glossy images of the car on a mountain road, but videos and actual specs for the buyer to explore. Same for a vacation destination such as a cruise line.

Any physical place, such as a mall or a concert venue or sports experience, can also begin to provide richer information, interaction, and advertising opportunities.

Is That All You Got?

Those, admittedly, are pretty mundane examples, especially for a supposedly world-changing technology. Here’s the thing: what we have now is a brand-new ability. Our crayon box just got bigger.

We need to think about this not so much as having a new outlet for a message, but rather a new way of interacting. If we step back from the execution and think about the opportunity, we’ll move through another barrier into yet another world.

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