Thursday, July 30, 2009

Raiders of the Lost Art.

It’s a classic, the ageless cinematic equivalent of a whoopee cushion: Having escaped certain doom by the skin of his teeth, Indy and the girl find refuge in a cave/cellar/catacomb/flaming biplane, only to discover that they have leapt into the certain jaws of a worse fate. And that’s where the real adventure begins.

Thanks to a misspent youth, it’s this image rather than something more Homeric that popped into my head as I read Forbes’ piece last week on the explosion of spending in online media. It’s getting hard to argue that traditional advertising has seen its best days. By the estimate of the expert they interviewed, something like $65 billion will end up migrating from meatspace media to web media during marketing’s Black Swan of 2009. It’s a big number, and the gurus reckon that money’s never going to go back where it came from. Those Housewives might be about to learn the true meaning of Desperate.

The implications of this are pretty well understood, grimly in Madison Avenue bars and smugly on Twitter: Mass media are on the economic ropes. That’s bad. Online channels are growing by leaps and bounds. That’s good. Marketers are losing the ability to reach huge audiences efficiently. That’s bad. But their money is now being spent in a medium that is measurable, trackable, accountable and infinitely tweakable. That’s really, really, really good. There’s nothing a brand manager loves more than to present charts and graphs to his VP showing what a budget-optimizing little devil he is. Career-wise, you can’t do better than that. In data, there is safety.

Or is there.

I’m not so sure, but I can’t wait for this second act to get started. Because, mon corporate teamwear-clad brand manager ami, on the internets, measurement turns out to be a double-edged sword. The way I see it, all this ‘accountability’ is a pleasant collateral effect of something much bigger and hairier: $65 billion worth of marketing spending is being directed to a public bazaar in which the consumer can and will talk back. And I don’t mean Larry King-type talking back, with call screening and time delays and quaint rural accents. I mean real-time, frank, visceral reactions. From well-connected opinion leaders and inarticulate grumps alike. What marketers are measuring, everybody else is watching live. And the consumer – because her behavior is going to be so closely observed and adapted to – is about to become more powerful than she has ever been. Those people marketers are following around online will effectively be making their decisions for them, now, especially if they rely exclusively on their precious data rather than on their own imaginations.

In other words, no matter how empowering all those lovely analytics might seem, marketers might not have the whip hand anymore.

To them, I magnanimously offer two pieces of absolutely free advice: Don’t piss those people off, not if they don’t have to do business with you. But more than this, don’t bore them. You might be there to do business, but they’re there either for fun or for information. I imagine I don’t have to spell this out for you, what with you being trained professionals and all.

And as for you consumers? Well, you got what you wanted. The marketing world is paying $65 billion worth of very close attention to you, now. Make it count.


Ann I Ball said...

You've given me something to chew on. Thanks.

BrandCowboy said...

Thanks for reading, Ann!

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