At the recent ad:tech in San Francisco, I came away with the incredible feeling that the advertising shift we’ve all been talking about is real. Over 10,000 attendees — up from the 2,500 or so at my first San Francisco ad:tech at the Palace Hotel in 2003 — confirms this. The 2006 show included panels and exhibitors bringing social media (media that don’t require an interruption to work) to the table in ways marketers can actually implement today. Most remarkable was the evident media-mix shift. Marketer attention has started move to the center of the purchase funnel to the consideration cycle, where social media is beginning to exert itself.
Ad:tech launched a new conference session, “What’s New, What’s Next,” a tradeshow space dedicated solely to the kinds of marketing tools that are almost real. In some cases, they’re already real. I bought a Slingbox yesterday on Amazon.com and have worked with WildTangent for several years. In fact, I presented the WildTangent-led Coast BMX advergame project at ad:tech in 2003.
Looking through the various trade mags that dot my local landscape, I came across more than a few signs that what’s been brewing at ad:tech is catching on: a flat TV upfront; concerns about the increasing clutter factor on both TV and (gasp) online (where media is all-too-often placed as if it were TV); and major accounts shifting as brands seek new channels. This week, BMW’s motorcycle division tapped independent Concept Farm, citing a desire to place more emphasis in part on word of mouth. Add to that Wal-Mart’s announcement that it’s placing its account in review at least in part “to make sure that we’re working with partners who can help us with fully integrated communications across all of the media we use.”
On this note, Wal-Mart CMO John Fleming also recruited Julie Roehm. Those of you who have attended ad:tech for the past few years will recognize Roehm as the leader of the Jeep and Daimler-Chrysler advergaming work. In the same week, Progressive placed its $250 million account in review. According to Progressive’s Alex Ho, “We are constantly seeking compelling ways to help consumers understand our superior value proposition.” Having spent eight years at Progressive, an incredibly focused and disciplined marketer, I’d guess what Ho is really saying is, “We love what we’ve done. Now, we want to do even more.”
Add it all up and you’ve got the better part of a billion dollars inside of one week shifting to gain access to consumers through more types of media than would have been seriously considered only a year or two ago. That’s good news for consumers growing increasingly tired of the clutter. It’s also good news for marketers looking to leapfrog competitors by effectively applying these new channels.
Most interesting in all of this is the rise of social media. Many of the alternative channels depend centrally on consumers taking an active interest in the marketing message and carrying it to friends and acquaintances within social networks. These messages don’t ride on an interruption; they ride on a person’s genuine desire to share information. The fact that what they share can be positive or negative doesn’t seem to bother confident marketers. The great thing about social media and consumer-generated forms such as word of mouth is they can’t be faked. It’s not what an ad says the product should do but what my online peers tell me the product actually does that truly cuts through the clutter.
Smart marketers with best-of-class offerings increasingly turn to socially aware advertising platforms like FilmLoop and Powered to tell their story in a way that invites consumer participation and sets up evangelism. Not to be left out (as is all too frequently the case), social media techniques are continuing their push into business-to-business marketing as well: IMN, Cerado, and Bazaarvoice offer platforms that allow business communicators to extend their reach using the same online channels consumers are using to talk to one another. Last week, “Rolling Stone” (so you know it’s mainstream now) made reference to vlogging, video blogs that leverage the popularity and increasing presence of handheld video cameras. Marketers can partner with Maven Networks to ride that same wave.
Where will all this shake out? Smart e-marketers are in a prime position to capitalize. Precisely because the technology convergence is focused online, online advertising itself is the beneficiary of the new tools and techniques that were on display at ad:tech. Add to that leading marketers’ shifting focus (the real money is starting to move in the direction of the new non-interruptive channels), and it’s a very bright future for any advertiser willing to just say no to the past reliance on interruptions and instead put emerging social media tools to work in ways consumers accept and embrace.