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On Advertising, Interrupted

Consumer Marketing

On Advertising, Interrupted image ht house of cards nt 130211 wg 300x168

Last week, I spent more time than absolutely necessary discussing whether a lion could beat up a tiger. It’s hard to put a billable ROI against that kind of agency chat.

During the week, I also read a very good article on ‘Native Advertising’, written by Greg Grimmer, an old friend who’s never short on fresh thinking.

Lions and tigers, old friends and new views, I love how certain tangents collide.

Yet in truth, these tangents aren’t such tangents.

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First, ‘Native Advertising’: a tag initially applied to the evolution of ‘online display advertising’, where online display comes over as too ‘advertisingy’ (hence people ignore and resent it) and so the answer becomes advertising that’s less like ‘advertising’, that’s more like the actual editorial content we all consume by choice.

The great danger in this is how former ‘offline’ attempts at ‘advertising as editorial’ have played out. Enter: ‘The advertorial’, that most insipid kind of masquerade.

Advertising that’s faking it, trying to mirror the ‘real content’, only where the quality isn’t there, the bias is, and there’s a headline at the top underlining the insincere sham of it all: ‘This is a Promotion’ – how was that ever going to be a great idea? Or an effective one? No points for guessing, I’ve never been a fan. But like discovering a brave new universe, born from the black hole of a previously bad idea, we now have a new and potentially inspired prefix to consider.

INTERRUPTION… OF THE WELCOME KIND

‘Online’ is a medium troubled by the same spectral dilemma that haunts the wider advertising community. Do people like advertising, or not, and given technology is bestowing upon us a surfeit of edit buttons, what is advertising’s future?

This was the topic of a Google Squared debate I took part in last week. I didn’t talk about lions fighting tigers (though I will shortly), but my debate does represent a third converging tangent in all of this. The panel included Rob Smith, MD of Ogilvy & Mather and Mike BurgessDigital Director at BMB. Both Rob and Mike are the kind of industry brains who are going to get as close as anyone to establishing advertising’s future, and while we didn’t collectively crack it in a 1-hour chat, I left my swivel seat with one recurring word.

‘Interruption.’

People invariably hate being interrupted, and the old model of advertising is based on this simple principle. No one welcomes that moment when the movie they’re watching on TV (live or recorded) is gate-crashed by a 3+ minute blast of snake-oil selling.

Ad agencies still sell clients TV work in darkened boardrooms full of nodding heads with the volume dialed to 11. Show that TV ad in the middle of Homeland, and I don’t feel quite the same way about it.

The Super bowl may indeed be the only TV watching exception, where the commercials co-define the pop cultural moment, but the Super bowl is that bold exception (because it’s so damn long and the structure of play so staccato) to an otherwise obvious truth.

The ‘obvious truth’ that interruption is seldom enjoyed prompts the spin-off question: Are there times when people enjoy being interrupted? Can advertising ever be a welcome interruption? Mike Burgess’s citing of style bibles like Vogue (where the advertising is intrinsic to the content, to what the magazine fundamentally is) serve as a glossy full color affirmation that advertising can be positively received.

‘Welcome Interruption’ loops me back round to ‘native’, which I don’t think the online community should have all to themselves.

After all, those Prada and Jimmy Choo ads in Vogue are effectively ‘native’, given they complement, even improve, the overall media consumption moment. 

I like this word ‘Native’, and not just because it makes my Northern Hemisphere light-deprived sensibilities think of people wearing flip flops and sarongs and smelling of sun lotion.

I like the word because it posits a ‘new way of being’ for ‘advertising’, equipping brands with a new lingua franca or ‘second language’. In keeping step with these fast-moving times, advertising is being invited to shrug off its now outmoded garbs and blend in with all the indigenous stuff people naturally like and want. I wonder, is it now very possible for advertising to be “non-advertising advertising”, no longer the unwelcome intruder, but rather the source of any manner of cool stuff that causes us to grin and declare feelings of awesomeness?

HIGH CONCEPTS & BROWS: A NEW KIND OF MAGIC

I’ve talked before about brands needing to be Power-Givers, to really bring it to the table, the party, to wherever and whomever. Having good chat (whether on a panel or at a party), rocking up with a metaphorically tidy ‘bottle of’, for brands, this is literally about creating very human experiences – encounters or interactions – that make life better somehow. Intrigue me. Inform me. Educate me. Entertain me. Where these experiences are brought to me BY A BRAND, is this still ‘advertising’?

Sixty years ago, ‘The Thirty Second Ad’ was a magic bullet that consistently hit its mark. Sixty years on and any suggestion that the same kind of advertising convention is going to be similarly effective is potty. Don Draper, and his output, was a product of its time. Today’s ‘Magic Bullet’ needs to look very different – and while no brand has yet landed on the absolute blend of sorcery and armoury, but some are getting closer.

Which brings me to ‘Lions & Tigers’. You see, if someone asks me whether a Lion can beat up a Tiger, I’m interested as hell, drawn close and want to know more. I don’t necessarily want to see 90 seconds of footage of a Tiger and a Lion going at it, but I’d very much like to see a short documentary funded by, say, Patagonia or Timberland, that explores the question (and ideally provides the answer).

If I say to you, as people have recently put to me, have you seen that mountain biker being hunted by a Peregrine Falcon, aren’t you immediately curious how that worked out for rider and bird, and to click HERE if you don’t know?

If I tell you someone, a ‘Big Black Little Bit Crazy Woman’ called GloZell, is willing to film herself eating a ladle of cinnamon (these kind of antics have earned her 2.25m You Tube subscribers), you might just click HERE to see the faces and noises she makes after ingesting.

While this might sound a bit inane, I’m not suggesting we only interpret ‘native’ as dumbed-down ‘High Concept’, in the Simpson-Bruckheimer ‘One Sentence Pitch’ sense.

In a separate corner of this same native universe, consider Marriot hotels interpretation of ‘Sponsored Content’; a partnership with Fast Company where they’ve created the TravelBrilliantly series, corralling some very clever people to explore and explain what travel might mean these digital days.

Sure, #TravelBrilliantly is ‘branded content’ because it’s content that the Marriott brand has made happen, but it’s also just plain-and-simple content that I naturally love and gravitate towards and want to talk about. It could just as easily be from WIRED or Mashable. I become grateful to Marriot for being the catalyst, and I start thinking Marriott is a brand with a much higher IQ, irrespective of whether they’re slip-steaming the smarts of others or not. (Check out what a friend of mine, Faris Yakob, has to say about Time Travel and ‘Memory Hacking” here.) 

The effect is also similar to when I recently stayed at a W Hotel and my key card – in addition to opening my door – referenced their partnership with Intel and Roman Coppola, about a short movie collection (and spin-off competition) they’ve made. I think W Hotels are pretty cool, and I actively looked into what kind of film-makers the W are. They’re this kind: CLICK.

“IMAGINE IF..?”: THE NEW AGE OF ADVERTISING  

I’m in the front row here-cheering where Greg’s article asserts, “distribution is as crucial, if not more so, than the curation and creation of content. Don’t expect the Kevin Costner field of dreams effect”. I also however believe that in the same way that talent outs and cream rises, if you conceive the content equivalent of a Shard or a Gherkin or a Burj Khalifa, then you’re stacking the odds of making an impression on anyone’s horizon.

“Imagine what would happen if you ate a whole ladle of cinnamon… pitted a tiger against a lion… tried to free-fall from the very edge of space?”

The late Don Simpson, Hollywood Fast Lane Lunatic, is living proof that High Concept is no way to live, but it might just breathe new life into the advertising model.

Any brand that bank-rolls the creation of something ‘Very Cool’, that I’d naturally pay to see or read, is a brand I’ll happily say thank-you to, and more likely buy.

“Netflix made history tonight, winning three Emmy awards for House of Cards, becoming the first company to win the awards for online-only shows.” (Sep 22nd, 2013) 

Where Jay Leno declared, “I don’t know what TV is anymore”, it might just be a very good thing if we all embrace the idea of not knowing what ‘advertising’ is anymore either.

Blockbuster never went knocking on Kevin Spacey’s door, and look how that turned out. Netflix figured the best possible ad they could make was a brilliant TV series (and maybe one of the best and longest TV “ads” of all time?). “Give people what they want” said Spacey, “when they want it, in the form they want it in. It’s all content.

Content that I naturally crave: this is the stuff that sells itself. And it’ll sell the brands that make it.

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