Thursday, February 18, 2010

Why advertisers have it all wrong

Rich Manalang is becoming a twentieth-century Luddite, or a Communist, or something like that. In short, he's doing something that just should not be done.

What is Rich's crime? He's taking a break from most social media:

In an IM conversation I had with Paul this morning, I decided to embark on an experiment. I’ve decided to drop out of all things social (online) for a few weeks. This includes Twitter, Buzz, Facebook, blogging, etc.

Basically, Rich wants to pare down his social media inputs for a period of time, in order to decide which ones are essential and which are not.

Rich is only allowing himself three exceptions: email and instant messaging, which he describes as "essential," and Google Reader, because it provides clear benefits to him. Unlike Google Buzz:

Anyway, the big reason I’m doing this is that since last Tuesday, I’ve sunk a lot of time into futzing with Google Buzz. That’s time I’ll never get back. Meanwhile, I have yet to see the real value of Google Buzz.

So Rich is dealing with the time-sink problem, one that many of us have encountered. In a comment, I noted that Rich's needs are the opposite of the needs of the content providers themselves (the reference to gas stations relates to the television screens that have been installed at some pumps):

We have a need to get useful information as quickly as possible, while Facebook, Google, the gas station, and other content providers have a need to give us useful information, but keep us at their sites as long as possible (so that we view as many ads as possible).

What it boils down to is this - advertising is so bad that we don't want to watch it, and have to be bribed to do so. Let's face it - when television equipment providers built features into their equipment that allow you to skip over ads, you know that the situation is pretty bad. And if you don't have such equipment, then the appearance of a commercial often signals that it's time for a bathroom break, a trip to the fridge - anything to get away from the advertisements until the real show begins again.

And it's not just a television issue - you can find it in radio also. I'm driving my daughter to school this semester, and one morning she consented to let me listen to "Handel on the News" on KFI. We switched to that station, and it was in the middle of its "shortened" ad block that still occupies several minutes. So we switched back to her favorite radio station (to protect her privacy I won't reveal the call letters of the station, but the morning show host tends to talk about "American Idol" a lot)...and her station was in the middle of its own block of ads.

It seems that for 364 days out of the year, American advertisers create ads that people do not want to hear. But, at least in this country, there's one exception - the Super Bowl. On that day, all of the advertisers (or, to be more accurate, the advertising agencies) all compete to have ads that people will watch, like, and talk about the next day. Expectations are raised high - and, at least personally, the results are always less than stellar.

For me, the solution to this is simple.

If you are an actor, actress, writer, or someone else who wants to advance in the television industry (I'll skip radio for the moment), you may get your start on local TV, then move on to network TV, and then move on to the movies. By the time you reach the movie-making level, studios are paying millions of dollars to get the best actors, actresses, and scriptwriters to make mega-hits. At the same time, the smaller outfits are trying to compete on quality and good storytelling. Regardless, for many people, movies are the ultimate goal.

What if the ultimate goal was to get into a thirty-second advertisement?

What if writers were competing to write the perfect ad? What if actors and actresses were clamoring to get into one of those ads? What if producers and directors were competing to get rights to the next Folger's ad? Maybe it wouldn't pay $20 million, but you wouldn't have to make a huge time commitment.

Eventually, if such a system were implemented, people would WANT to watch the ads. They'd even put up with Bob Costas in the hope that maybe that hot Folger's ad might appear after Bob's latest Tribute To A Wonderful American Athlete's Younger Brother.

And, of course, this could move beyond television. Radio ads could get better. Those ads that are served up by Google et al could get better - things that you'd want to read, rather than things that require software to block you from reading them.

What does it take to get to a world where people WANT to view and read ads?
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