E-Marketing and the Time Bandits

A friend sent me a video clip that embodies a lot of what’s driving online marketing. The clip, from Isobar, opens with Sarah Fay, Isobar president, talking about how consumers use media, setting up a dialogue in the clip about participative versus intrusive ads. Isobar’s CEO, Nigel Morris, comments that given consumer attitude on intrusion “we’re not planning around consumers, we’re planning through consumers.”

Built in the same style as the Isobar Web site, the clip quickly conveys the essence of what’s going on in marketing: If your message is an intrusion, it’s likely missing the mark. If it’s invited, referred, recommended, or passed along and can be controlled by the recipient, it’s much more likely to do its intended job.

Top-tier shops have always understood the connection between getting attention and providing something in return. At GSD&M, top tier by any definition, it was called the “uninvited guest.” A commercial is an intrusion, and unless the viewer is made to laugh, cry, think, or feel a similar emotion, the intrusion has failed to pay back the time stolen. It’s on the basis of this transaction that much media is still measured: do consumers like the campaign? “Ad Meter” from “USA Today” is the poster child for this type of measure taken to a perhaps questionable extreme.

The Isobar campaign recognizes not only that stolen time must be paid back but also that when this happens the viewer’s time spent learning about the product goes up. That may seem obvious, but it’s fundamental to social media (define) and its application in e-marketing. In traditional metrics, such as the Ad Meter, the fundamental measure is the spot’s popularity. If the spot was popular, people talked about it and tended to watch it more. However, you can only watch a :30 spot for so long, that is, for 30 seconds. That’s it. Sure, consumers can search Google and research based on what they saw, but that requires a set of follow-on steps.

With social media this changes. Because the referral is a link to more and the media can be tailored to a specific consumer’s immediate desire by the sender, the viewer can actually dive right in. And amazingly, they do. Through media that’s tailored to specific people (versus demographics) and delivered by referral through that individual’s personal social network, the time spent with a product or service before purchase can quickly expand beyond the original communication. Consumers can effectively try a product by sampling others’ experiences.

The ad practices that drive social media and, by extension, all contemporary media necessarily diverge from traditional practices if you accept the above. Most traditional metrics reward ad recall and a positive change in brand perception or likelihood of trial as a result of exposure. There’s nothing wrong with this, except perhaps that not enough media is held to even this simple standard. After all, the ad’s job is to get attention (raise awareness) and drive further interest (consideration) in the hopes of a purchase.

Social media, by comparison, seeks to simulate trial by exposing consumers immediately to the actual experiences of others who have tried a particular product or service. This means what used to be two steps — awareness and consideration — are merged into a single initial opening pitch. For example, “Hey Bob, here’s a new bass lure I got at Cabela’s. I used it last weekend and it works great. Looking forward to seeing you and your family up at our cabin this weekend. Bring your tackle!”

Combined with a short video showing me actually landing a nice fish, you can be assured Bob is going to show up next weekend with his new lure, the one that I recommended. Through social media, I was able to get the right message to Bob and move Bob from awareness to consideration in one step.

How does this change media planning and production? It’s not about consumers noticing the ad. It’s about them acting, at least through the point of active research. Taking notice is the ante. If you’ve seen the billboards that say “Does advertising work? Just did!” you know what I mean. Consumers are way beyond this. So what if they looked? It’s what they do that matters. And if it’s writing negatively about that campaign in public, the ad didn’t work.

By comparison, the Isobar clip got me to look closer at the agency and what motivates it, to pass the clip along to others, and to write about it favorably. That’s a campaign that works.

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