Upfront About the Absurd

Many who know me consider me something of a redneck. My colleagues like to be schmoozed by sales reps. A nice night out on the town includes a gourmet dinner and a fine bottle of wine. I like down-to-earth stuff. I drink beer from a can. I walk in the woods scaring up deer with my wife and dog. I spend time with people who enjoy the same things I do. So I sometimes find myself in places others would consider ridiculous. Last weekend, my wife and I attended the Eelpout Festival on Leech Lake, in Walker, Minnesota.

The Eelpout Festival is our Valentine’s Day tradition. It’s basically a Mardi Gras-like festival disguised as an ice fishing contest. We always run into many of the same drunken people who, year after year, crank up the level of absurdity.

We witnessed a motorized toilet (driver with pants around his ankles); people swigging schnapps from an actual eelpout (pics are on the site); swimmers in a pool (it was -5 degrees); and completely naked strollers on the main thoroughfare, save for winter boots.

You’re thinking, “This is a media column. Where’s he going with this?” (I’m sure that’s what my editor is thinking.)

Well, I’m going to the upfront, my friends. It’s media professionals’ very own version of the bizarre and ridiculous. The annual event allows people drunk on their own egos to achieve a level of preposterousness rivaled only by the previous year’s proceedings.

We’ve witnessed the same players come back to the table to display media versions of motorized toilets and fish-filtered liquor. We’ve seen (and will continue to see) eroding network audiences and lackluster programming. Increasingly, advertisers are asked to accept low-budget, cookie-cutter programming at increasing costs.

Pardon me, but it should not work that way! I digress. I’ll try to stay on topic: interactive media.

We’ve begun thinking about the upfront lately. It’s not exactly right around the corner, but an interactive media company’s participation requires considerable more thought than that of a traditional TV buying shop. This is driven by several reasons, such as:

  • Opportunities to bundle the Web into the upfront evolve all the time. For example, the sports category seems rapidly maturing following the introduction of ESPN Motion. Opportunities are growing across many more categories, although in some cases it requires agency interest and suggestion to get such opportunities on the upfront table. In short, we need to do our homework.
  • We must gain client buy-in to pursue interactive opportunities within the upfront context. There’s no shortage of clients out there who covet TV schedules and are highly reluctant to fragment the budget by including other media. Asking these people to allocate a slice of the pie to secure complimentary interactive media can be quite a chore. You may want to start making overtures now.
  • Coordination across different areas (or companies) to bring off- and online buying expertise together is no small task. There must be a clear prioritization and understanding of the goals for the interactive component. Ditto an agreed method for valuation. If a list of wants and needs is generated, then left to be stewarded by someone who may not fully grasp certain elements, the result can fall flat. You may want to plant the seeds now.

Preparation over the coming weeks by folks like us could drive some very interesting interactive opportunities and outcomes at this year’s upfront. We should be able to count on the usual players showing up with their bizarre, two-story fish houses (or outhouses, for that matter) and Mardi Gras beads for all. We should stand in the midst of it all with a sense of enjoyment and astonishment, and come away with a sense of achievement. Not for simply having participated in the upfront, but for having shown up, contributed to the craziness, and inspired desire to raise the stakes for next year.

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