Why can’t we all do a little less polluting?

Speaking at the Association of National Advertisers recent marketing conference, PepsiCo’s Brad Jakeman nailed a primary challenge for major brand advertisers: consumers are increasingly rejecting the interruptive media that is pushed in front of them.

Mr. Jakeman even went so far as to bluntly refer to this disruptive media content as “pollution.” Yet the consumer instinct to evade such media has had a business impact for both brands and advertisers.

In his commencement speech at MIT 20 years ago, Sir Tim Berners Lee remarked that, “The Internet should be less like TV and more like a sea of shared knowledge.” But taking a cursory look across the major news, social, and content sites 20 years later, the Internet is exactly like TV – right down to the business models and media platforms. As Mr. Jakeman noted, advertising has largely failed to evolve.

The standard quid pro quo for TV advertising during the ’50s and ’60s – free content in exchange for ads – was accepted if not embraced, at least up until the rise of DVRs.

And it’s not even as if today’s advertisers actually believe that most people want to see advertising anymore – they are aware that people are not interested in watching ads.

This awareness is also evident in the usage of countdowns during ads that inform viewers how much longer they have to wait to get back to the content they were initially watching. 

There are at least three fundamental shifts that are relevant to today’s agencies and major global brands, which align with Mr. Jakeman’s comments:

1. Ads are interruptive and therefore are fundamentally objectionable

The required agency shift is to become an advisor to clients on how to build a brand through excellent customer experience, rather than purchase one through share of voice.

2. People that make ads know that viewers dislike them

Be honest with clients – starting with the premise of “cutting through the clutter” means realizing that advertising is the clutter. Therefore, cutting through it implies the intent to stop it completely.

But if advertisements didn’t interrupt, how else could they reach consumers?

That’s the question advertisers need to help their clients answer, because the increasing resistance to disruptive content proves that this method does not work. So how should brands connect?

3. Building advocates relies not on what is claimed in an ad, but instead what is delivered in an experience

Pepsi refreshes, so loyal customers recommend it. Agencies need to get out of the brand declaration business and instead get into the customer experience business.

The customer experience drives recommendations, and recommendations don’t rely on interruptions.

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Although human ingenuity is perhaps not at all surprising, it’s significant to note the marketplace’s resilience and the way in which it is able to heal itself.

If the agency model is truly broken due to larger agencies being unable or unwilling to embrace a new model and let go of the idea that TV is the only answer, there are plenty of smaller shops with specific skills and fresh perspectives willing to fill in. 

And that’s exactly what’s been happening. PepsiCo’s own current roster of independent partners creates global advertising and strategic campaigns which are designed to drive advocacy for the brands under the PepsiCo umbrella. One example that is a result of this approach is Pepsi’s more down-to-earth “LIVE FOR NOW” campaign:

I do not suggest hastily dumping your agency, as this rash action rarely results in the intended outcome. So how can you encourage your current agency to shift with you?

Agency teams are often great partners and partnerships have a value. Here are three things you can do:

1. Question them when tell you that customers will like a particular ad

Do they mean that customers asked to see this instead of the content they were already watching, or that the ad itself is likeable? There is so much really bad advertising that being regarded as likeable is actually a rather high bar.

But being liked is not enough – content consumers are directing their own media streams and the opportunities to interrupt are diminishing. Ask your agency to help you build content that your customers will select on their own to answer the question I raised earlier, “If advertisements didn’t interrupt, how else could they reach consumers?”

2. Demand that your agency presents a plan for building advocates

This is an altogether different concept than inciting purchasers to buy. Though buying is also important, the advocate will ultimately carry the message for you. As interruptive media models fade, advocates are your future. Have a plan to build more of them.

3. Challenge your agency to think about customers’ voices

How can consumer insights contribute to or be incorporated within the brand plan? It’s now the case that customers – not agencies – define the brand through interaction and storytelling on social networks, participation in branded peer communities, and in creating and sharing content on informal content channels. 

Information from consumers should be utilized to support an excellent customer experience at a variety of innovative support, marketing, and creative touchpoints. Rather than exclusively considering brand building tools, your agency also needs to consider strategies that encourage direct participation and engagement from consumers as a formal component of the brand plan.

In summary 

Though effectively addressing these challenges as you attempt to generate media that does not interrupt the organic flow of the user experience can be difficult, considering these ideas and using them to your advantage can help you get more out of your agency and your campaigns.

However you do it, the key thing is to focus on building advocates and to always make the customer experience a motivating priority.

Yes – it is possible to pollute less and putting some of these suggestions into practice is a good start. So give them a try, and don’t forget to tell us about your results in the comments below.

Homepage image via Flickr. 

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