Things to Do in Advertising When the Market Is Dead

A long time ago, in a county far, far away — well, OK, not that far away — I was once a young child who read many stories. Fantasies, fairy tales, parables — I read them all. Most of the parables were related to my heavily Catholic upbringing. Needless to say, many of them had to do with fishing.

One of the stories I just barely remember reading — the reading of it and the details obscured by thick mists of time — was about a traveler who came upon a fishing village. He had come at a time of year when no schools were running along the coastline, so the industry of the village was silent. The traveler asked a local what everyone did when the fish were not running. The local said, “We take this time to mend our nets and repair our boats. We work on casting and find new ways to make our catches.”

This is to say, they made themselves ready for when the season changed and brought the currents that carried with them the fish to be harvested. The denizens of the fishing village prepared for the time when their seas were no longer barren, when the cycle turned and they could once again go about their livelihoods.

It is important to note here that those whose skill it is to cast nets are not the same as those whose skill it is to mend them. The best boat captains aren’t necessarily the best repairmen and builders. Depending on the season and the task at hand, different skill sets are needed.

Well, my fellow “parishioners,” the same can be said for advertising. And during this season of still and empty waters, all people in the industry, with all of their varying skill sets, need to get together and start preparing — mending nets and patching boats.

During this downturn, while the market is soft and business is slow, organizations with the resources and wherewithal to make it through this season should look at improving the digital marketplace in ways that will make digital media attractive marketing tools when the climate improves.

Things such as the recent guideline proclamation from the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) regarding rich media is one example. The release of studies by the IAB, MSN, Diameter, and CNET in recent weeks are others. And all of this is highly necessary, but hardly sufficient, to give the digital media space the things it needs to prove to traditional advertisers just what it is capable of.

Other things yet to do are Persons Cume Studies that will provide us with campaign-level reach/frequency curves for online advertising so that the Internet’s communication value can be looked at in the context of other media.

Agencies need to start mining all the data that they’ve been gathering and start making sense of it in such a way that the learnings can be applied to clients, in turn yielding better results and more effective advertising in the future. Like it or not, traditional agencies have to realize that the line separating direct response and branding is eroding.

Technology providers need to continuously debug their systems and work with research companies to standardize measurements.

Email list providers need to develop better corroborative filtering to give online marketers the targeting capabilities that satisfy the promise online advertising made so long ago.

There are myriad things this industry could be doing to make itself ready for when advertisers are ready to start spending again.

Sports teams practice in the off-season to prepare for game play against opponents. Doctors and lawyers take continuing education courses to be up to snuff on developments in their given professions. And fishermen mend nets when the fish aren’t running.

We need to take advantage of this downtime and turn it into a blessing, not a curse.

After all, the difference between adventure and ordeal is attitude. So let’s get the right attitude and turn this back into an adventure.

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