Back to the Advertising Future

Reach back to these three timeless fundamentals to provide traction for future moves.

Ever get tired of trying to make a case for investing in new advertising and marketing models? You could throw every number, ROI (define) case study, or testimonial in front of a CMO and she still won’t budget.

Some categories, like consumer-packaged goods, continue to move at a glacial speed online, despite a preponderance of evidence that consumer behavior and engagement continues to storm the Web. Isn’t advertising supposed to follow attention?

What’s holding us back? More important, at what point does interactive marketing shift from the must-be-crazy-breakthrough to win my respect (e.g., Coke meets Mentos or even Dove’s Evolution or Onslaught) to the ordinary (a required building block in every campaign)?

I have a new strategy: Back to the Advertising Future. It’s all about reaching back to hard, timeless fundamentals to provide traction for future moves.

Put another way, let’s get back to basics. Yes, the boring, vanilla, everyday basics. Here are three fundamentals to start with:

  • Focus groups
  • The store shelf
  • Television

When I started at Procter & Gamble, such fundamentals weighed heavily in my training like the Great Books of Western Civilization. Indeed, there was a whole science and discipline around category management (managing the shelf), TV copy effectiveness (television), and consumer understanding (focus groups).

These fundamental still matter, maybe even more than ever. We just need to tweak them to fit the new environment.

Back to the Focus Group Basics

Within the first 48 hours of starting at P&G, I was coleading live focus groups with Hispanic moms in Miami and Los Angeles. Deep, intimate listening, I learned, especially around unmet needs, really matters and translates to business success.

Focus groups still matter, of course, but the universe of harvestable content has exploded across the CGM (define) universe. Offline focus groups still matter, but you often find a more honest, unprompted, unsolicited candor in the online conversation. With the explosion of audio, video, and personal Web site mash-ups, consumer expression has taken on unique new meaning, and marketers are only at the tip of the iceberg of this insight-rich conversation. Even if you’re still scratching your head about the Web’s role as a marketing vehicle, there’s no question it’s a far superior focus-group platform. The Web also has the opportunity to be far more efficient and less expensive.

Takeaway: The focus group endures, but now it’s on steroids and takes place independent of marketer recruitment efforts.

Back to TV Basics

Sure, folks are reaching for the TiVo or DVR, but let’s face it: TV ads still work, and I’ll bet my bambinos that Super Bowl advertisers will continue to fork out nearly $2.5 million per :30 spot in 2008.

As I learned well at P&G, great TV copy works because it connects emotionally, allows persuasive “benefit visualization” (e.g., side-by-side demos), and often works around a single, engaging, dramatic big idea or insight. But lo and behold, those are the same factors driving the off-the-charts popularity with online video. Consumer-generated multimedia (CGM2) is particular persuasive and engaging online. Far from reinventing the wheel, advertisers should simply start their online exploratory by porting over proven principles from successful TV copy development and tweak them based on the medium’s unique characteristics. Moreover, they should ask some important questions to take them to the next level:

  • Can my brand use the power of on-demand video to explain or demonstrate how to use products?
  • Can my brand use the power of TV online to reach unique audiences, such as Hispanics, African Americans, or “power moms”?
  • Can my brand use the power of TV to push beyond the standard 30 seconds?
  • Can I dial up the net impact and persuasiveness of standard TV copy in an on-demand environment? What unique opportunities does that present?

Takeaway: Use everything you know about TV as an accelerator to the Web’s most promising new feature: online video.

Back to the Shelf Space Basics

Brand managers live and breathe category management. If a product slips up or down the shelf or two slots to the right, millions of dollars in incremental or lost sales could be on the line — or even a promotion to VP or marketing director. P&G’s A.G. Lafley captures the essence of this principle in his “first moment of truth.” What consumers see on the shelf, and where it’s placed, matters.

Why not apply the same logic to the online space, especially as more buyers zip through the Web research aisles before they buy? Google has built a company with a $200 billion market cap selling access to the virtual shelf in the form of advertising that hangs on the margins of search results. What about the value of the organic middle? If CGM dominates search results when you type “pampers,” “tide,” or “huggies” into the search box, what’s that worth? It obviously depends on the favorability of the comment, or what we might call the attractiveness of the conversational packaging.

Google search results are a shelf. Wikipedia results are a shelf. Brand Web site content are a shelf. And the questions we ask to build, promote, and protect shelf presence online are similar to what we ask offline:

  • What specific steps do I need to take to improve my shelf presence?
  • How will my product launch be impacted by early shelf results? Can I shape that?
  • What’s the cost of negative shelf?
  • Should I buy positioning against negative shelf?

My good friend and consumer expert Len Ellis makes a great point in the context of Wikipedia’s importance. “Product marketers should obsess about any resource like Google or Wikipedia to which large numbers of potential buyers turn for product information,” he says. “Brand marketers don’t live in the same hothouse environment; they must attend to such resources on an ongoing basis.”


Takeaway: Your brand standing is still your shelf landing.

If you’re stuck in a rut on whether to make the move online, reach back into the fundamentals before you leap forward. Trust me, there’s lots to work with.



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