Let’s Not Be Nostalgic for the ‘Mad Men’ Era

I’m a Mad Men fan, but unlike TV in the ’60s, I watch it on my DVR and OTT (over the top via the Internet). With technology I never miss the latest from Matthew Weiner’s provocative show. Like many, I will mourn the loss of this show when it reaches its final episodes in a few weeks (and hope beyond hope that high-quality spinoffs may someday be in the offing).

At the same time, however, it’s clear to me that the world of marketing and advertising is in a far better place today than it was in 1960 – or even 1990. Yes, the ’60s and ’70s did represent a golden era of commercial creativity, but creativity hasn’t gone away – it’s as healthy as ever. But the mass audience that was once so easy to hit in the analog era has spread into an almost infinite field of niches, and the old, assembly-line method of creating ads and beaming them to this mass of gazing eyes has long fallen by the wayside.

All Hail Transparency

Old methods (and old Mad Men) die hard deaths. I don’t know about you, but recent news about advertising agency kickbacks (said to comprise $100 million) made me very happy to be in a part of the marketing ecosystem where these kinds of shenanigans are impossible. Yes, we have problems in digital media pertaining to accountability (for example, the intense debate over the viewability of online ads), but all trends point to these problems being solved. But one thing that marketers will never stand for is being “data stonewalled” by agencies. They are more than willing to take their accounts in-house if they begin to see their agency relationships as impeding insights, not enabling them. My hope is that this kind of behavior be censured strongly by everyone in the ad business, not just because it makes ad agencies look crooked, but because such conduct may be enough to cause strict government regulation (which the ad industry has never suffered from) to become a reality.

Push Media Is Dead

Time-shifting, fragmentation, and mass intolerance for the kind of pushy behavior characteristic of old-style advertising has doomed old ways of doing things. We might all hate the ubiquitous banner, but it wasn’t that long ago that page takeovers were common, and we should be grateful that Google ended this practice because the alternative would have been a completely unusable Web. Sure, people were busy in the 1960s, but today Americans are so oversaturated with marketing that there’s a real desire to carve out a sphere away from the constant drumbeat of marketing annoyance. That’s why content marketing and native advertising (mainly represented by search engine PPC ads) are clicking with today’s consumers. Today advertisers must not only respect the user’s time, they must respect his/her attention by being relevant, intelligent, and subtle.

Creativity Is Thriving, But Not Everywhere

The commercial Web has been with us for 20 years now (and someday – perhaps in 2055, somebody will do a convincing show on this exciting, crazy period). And one thing I’ve noticed is that marketers’ attitudes toward its potential have evolved in a healthy direction, away from regarding it as simply another extension of television. Today’s generation of marketers – weaned on interactivity – are beginning to realize that the Web isn’t a medium, but a “meta medium,” that absorbs, redefines, and transforms every media form known to exist. In so doing, they can begin to realize the Web’s real marketing potential, which adds value – not noise – to the lives of the people experiencing it. There’s no shortage of creative possibilities here – what’s lacking is imagination, but future Don Drapers and Peggy Olsens will surely change this.

Creativity isn’t dead – it’s simply been redefined and is more important than ever. Storytelling is back, and product placement has returned in the form of native advertising. As more and more media is auctioned off programmatically, the brands and their agencies who understand how to optimize across paid, owned, and earned media, online and off, will be the ones who can afford to cherry-pick the best media out of the programmatic auctions.

We have more information than ever before about an impression before the ad is served or played. This is no excuse for lousy creative. When TV and radio advertising was required to deliver tonnage, we at least were treated with entertaining ads that had nothing to do with us (diapers, denture cream, dog food, and more, pardon the alliteration). As technology moves us closer to Minority Report levels of targeting, the industry must embrace the need to storytelling and good creative within the context of hyper-targeting. Sure, the creative costs as a percentage of media go up, but it’s worth it.

Image via Shutterstock.

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