It’s Future of Advertising Time Again. About the (Allegedly New) Crisis of Advertising.

Posted in Brands and Business,communications,media, culture and society,planning by thomas on the November 26th, 2010

So apparently it’s „The Future of Advertising“ time. Again.

There’s a a Fast Company article with that title compiling interviews with a host of well-respected industry people circulating, that was as usual followed by a storm of retweets and opinions. While the arguments are all valid and interesting and while I certainly have an opinion about the topic myself, I immediately had to think of something I wrote in 2008 (in German) when I was analyzing the then darling of the advertising industry – ‚viral‘ advertising – for my bachelor thesis. So because I still think it’s true, I thought it might be a good idea to translate the piece. Here is the trimmed down version:

One thing that concepts like ‚guerilla marketing‘, ‚viral‘ marketing or ‚viral‘ advertising all have in common is a more or less implicit assumption of a crisis of advertising: ‚annoyance by advertising‘, ‚flood of advertising‘ and ‚avoidance of advertising‘ are the commonly used concepts in the discourse.

Say ‘design’ and people think Rams, Ives, Eames. Say advertising and they think Cillit Bang.

… Russell Davies wrote in his blog in 2008. And he’s certainly not wrong. However, people’s attitude towards advertising is a bit paradox. While advertising (in general) provokes exactly the above mentioned reactions, advertising (in particular cases) is often remembered with joy, as Zurstiege (2005: 26ff) shows in his research. While zapping and DVRs lead to growing pains for advertisers, there are hundreds of ads on YouTube with thousands or even millions of views. [At the point when I wrote this, there was no Old Spice or Write The Future to refer to but only a Gorilla playing the drums.] All this approaches like ‚viral‘ advertising, ‚viral‘ marketing, guerilla marketing and whatnot tried to fulfill their effect by packing themselves as an „entertainment present“ (Zurstiege 2007: 143) and to therefore counteract advertising avoidance and advertising annoyance.

I believe if you want to be successful in the world of viral, you need to play by the rules of entertainment, not the rules of selling.

(Kevin Roddy 2006)

Entertainment, however, isn’t exactly a new approach. All along, at least in theory advertising tried to bring outstanding things to the consumers‘ eyes. This is – after all, what led to the aestheticisation of advertising through the employment of renowned artists in the 19th century in the first place (Zurstiege 2007: 22f).

Leaving advertising annoyance and advertising avoidance aside for a second, there’s of course also a lack of trust in the effects of advertising. As a representative for this part of the discourse who’s better to quote than Philip Kotler:

The average American is exposed to several hundred ad messages a day and is trying to tune out. TV advertising is losing its effectiveness because of growing advertising clutter, the increasing number of channels, the availability of zapping mechanisms, and reduced watching of television by certain groups. The result is that marketers must consider other methods of getting consumer attentions.

(Kotler 2005)

This chain of reasoning – information overload, explosion of channels, media use – is found in pretty much every introducing statement of pretty much every alternative approach:

Because of an increasing amount of media and advertising, DVRs and the changed media use, even more since the rise of the internet, we need new methods to solve the crisis of advertising.

That’s how it goes. And be it online-advertising, PR, event marketing or the much quoted ‚integrated communication‘, all of them are united by the fact that they lay claim to the leadership role in clients‘ marketing budget. [And the same may be said about ‚transmedia‘ and ‚crowdsourceing‘ and whatever other approach …]. But while information overload might partly explain the development of new approaches that aim at media content spreading digitally, even this isn’t a new phenomenon. What we have institutionalized as ‚information overload‘ and ‚advertising clutter‘ already had a name in the 19th century: Schilderpest (’signboard plague‘) (Zurstiege 2008: 129).

Advertising was finished from the outset. [„Die Werbung war von Anfang an am Ende.“]

(Schmidt 2004: 53ff)

The accusation of lying, the persistant suspicion of manipulation, the ’sensory overload‘ and the identity crisis because of the supposed incapability to produce socially and culturally relevant outcomes (cf. Schmidt 2004: 54), are all derived from the social functional system advertising itself. [It’s in it’s DNA, if you want to say it like that.]

Advertising produces scarcity of attention by achieving attention. Advertising needs bad advertising to stand out with good. Advertising – as a system – necessarily produces its own problems and solves it by adapting to changing social conditions (ibid. 73f). Advertising – and this is also shown by the appearance of ‚viral advertising‘ [insert buzzword here] – lives on new problems which can then be opposed by the creation of new and differentiating approaches (ibid. 74). The crisis of advertising [and therefore the question about it’s future] isn’t new, but an essential part of the system, the permanently repeats itself under different circumstances.

Sources:

  • Davies, Russel (2008): on the goodness and badness of advertising
  • Kotler, Philip: Advertising vs. PR: Kotler on Kotler.
  • Kotler, Philip/Bliemel, Friedhelm (2006): Marketing-Management. Analyse, Planung und Verwirklichung. 10., überarbeitete und aktualisierte Auflage. München [u.a.]: Pearson Studium.
  • Roddy, Kevin (2006) in Leonard, Devin (2006): Viral Ads: It’s an Epidemic. In: Fortune. New York: 2. Oktober 2006, 154. Jg., Heft 7/2006, 61.
  • Schmidt, Siegfried J. (2004): Die Werbung ist vom Anfang an am Ende. In: Die Depression der Werbung : Berichte von der Couch / Berliner KommunikationsFORUM e.V. Sebastian Kemmler … (Hrsg.).Göttingen: Business Village, 53-77.
  • Zurstiege, Guido (2005): Zwischen Kritik und Faszination. Was wir beobachten, wenn wir die Werbung beobachten, wie sie die Gesellschaft beobachtet. Köln: Halem.
  • Zurstiege, Guido (2007): Werbeforschung. Konstanz: UVK-Verl.-Ges.
  • Zurstiege, Guido (2008): Der Konsum Dritter Orte. In: Kai-Uwe Hellmann (2008): Räume des Konsums: Über den Funktionswandel von Räumlichkeit im Zeitalter des Konsumismus. Wiesbaden: VS, Verl. für Sozialwissenschaften.
(Guido Zurstiege and Siegfried Schmidt are renowned professors for communication, media and culture in Germany and among the few who have specifically focused on advertising.)

The Trouble with “Cultural Mapping”

Posted in Brands and Business,communications,media, culture and society by thomas on the Oktober 9th, 2010

I recently read an article at contagious (hat tip to Sebastian Garn for sharing) about Amsterdam Worldwide claiming to create better global campaigns because they are using a scientific method of analyzing cultures – which they call Cultural Mapping. That tool they cite is Hofstede’s cultural dimensions, which basically says people – or cultures – are different in the dimensions Power Distance; Individualism; Masculinity and Uncertainty Avoidance.

While I certainly agree that being culturally relevant is important, if not the most important aspect of brand management and communication, I do find a bunch of things interesting in that story.

First of all, it’s not like Amsterdam Worldwide has uncovered an academic secret. This is one of the most cited theories ever. According to Google Scholar he’s been cited 8810 times and from what I’ve been told at the university, even ahead of guys such as Jesus or Karl Marx. I think I heard it alone 5 to 10 times in my bachelor. Of course, it’s not like they are saying they use this model exclusively, but I still find it strange that an agency runs an article about something everybody who ever did an intercultural training has heard of before.

Then of course, using this model – just as any other model – doesn’t guarantee anything. It’s a model to not forget cultural dimensions but I think it’s not that good of an idea to base roundhouse-kick-like generalizations upon it or to expect ground-breaking “insights” from using it. I just think that focusing on a smaller group of people and finding out something interesting about them is more important than matching communication with a top-level insight about what is modeled as mainstream culture. (I always try to keep in mind that there might be bigger differences between Austrian IT-ers and “blue collar” workers than between IT-ers from Austria and Slovakia. And let’s not forget gender issues, age and other stuff.)

Last but not least, the research Hofstede has build his theory upon has been heavily criticized. It’s pretty old and it was done only with IBM employees at the beginning – IT people not exactly being the most representative sample group. Also, for example for Austria it concluded that we have among the lowest power distance score worldwide, meaning

“[…] people expect and accept power relations that are more consultative or democratic. People relate to one another more as equals regardless of formal positions. Subordinates are more comfortable with and demand the right to contribute to and critique the decisions of those in power”.

Power Distance

Now the intersting thing is that this is totally against what Austrian common sense would tell you and what researchers at my university found out, and it can only be interpreted and understood if you spend some time thinking about Austrian history and culture. What this dimension doesn’t tell you is that “Austrians” do like to complain about their bosses, don’t respect them too much and do think that their politicians, doctors, intellectuals and whoever else aren’t any smarter or deserving than “we” are. This, however, is only true if said people aren’t in the room. Once they are present the generalized “we” very much focuses on academic titles and job titles, hierarchies and power. So “Austrias” have a pretty much schizophrenic relationship with authority which my prof reasoned is because of some 1000 years of monarchy and bureaucratic state. “Cultural Mapping” won’t tell you this. And neither will it tell you how second-generation immigrants have appropriated this into their lives.

I like theories and models, I just think one has to be careful using them.

This – too – Is Advertising.

Now I haven’t posted an ad here in a while.

I have to admit that I’ve been a little fed up with advertising recently. Not because I’m surfing on the „advertising is the price that you pay for a bad product“ wave. I don’t. Or because I’ve been preaching „social media“ on a daily basis only to see people now abandoning their former golden calf. I don’t do that a lot either. Not even because I’ve typed myself silly about the „new customer„, agency models or how innovation is the new black. I think I’ve kept all that to a reasonable minimum.

Rather, it’s been precisely those debates and discussions that have made me a little tired of the bulk of the advertising discourse. Looking at twitter, blogs and AdAge It seems like everybody who’s holding at least a senior planning position in agencies big or small is busy hopping from conference to conference talking about the demise of the industry. Of course, not every stream of that discussion is dull and I’ve learned a lot from reading people who are incredibly smart and generous with their knowledge and experience. I’ll attend a planning barcamp myself this summer. And anyways it’s probably more an outsider perspective than an informed insider view. But still, my impression is: a lot, a lot of talk.

(Disclaimer: The next sentences may come across as a little bit of ass-kissing. And I agree. But then again, credit where credit is due.)

When I talk about exceptions, one of the agencies that has always been impressive in my eyes is – of course – W+K. Yes, they blog. Yes they retweet when their work is mentioned. Yes, they even have an opinion and voice it from time to time. But in general, their planners seem to be more busy (unsuccessfully) helping Labour to win elections than further contributing to the echochamber. Or repeatedly doing awesome stuff. And this is, in my humble opinion, a very good thing.

Now that was a very long prelude for a video. Here it is: Nike „Write The Future“.

This fully integrated campaign, spanning TV, cinema, print, digital, out-of-home and non-traditional executions is the culmination of an 18-month long collaborative effort led by W+K Amsterdam with support from W+K London and W+K Portland. While digital teasers were released on May 15th to build buzz ahead of the campaign, the official unveil is this epic 3-minute film called “Write the Future,” launching online tonight. The global broadcast will debut during the May 22nd European Club Final, a feat that required seven versions and 30 cut-downs to accommodate distribution to major networks in 32 countries.

Put simply: it’s an awe-inspiring peace of film. (Read their full background info here.)

From what can be seen in the admitedly media-biased twitter search people are loving it. They talk about it. And they will implement it in their lives. Heck, the whole set-up with different slices and pieces of film for different culture is brilliant. This is probably what Ehrenberg meant when he wrote about „Advertising as Creative Publicity„. This is what Lannon/Cooper meant when they wrote about humanistic advertising and asked the question „What do people do with ads?“ – in 1983. And this – too – is advertising.

Some thoughts about concepts, executions and things like that

Posted in Brands and Business,communications,digital,experience,planning by thomas on the September 11th, 2009

Haven’t posted in a while. Since coming back from Canada I’ve been reading a lot on- and offline, working on some projects, meeting a lot of interesting people at the remix09 in Hamburg. The following presentation is what I’ve been digesting so far. A work in process, a way for me to frame what I’ve been thinking about lately.

„Freche Rotzpippen“

Posted in Brands and Business,communications by thomas on the Dezember 19th, 2008

Rotznase wird ernsthaft bis vulgär in der Alltagssprache von älteren Menschen verwendet. Sie bezeichnen damit zumeist Kinder und Jugendliche, wenn diese sich frech, respektlos oder nicht altersgemäß äußern oder verhalten. In dieselbe Kategorie gehört auch der Ausdruck „Rotzlöffel“, „Rotzbengel“, „Göre“ und „rotzfrech“, im österreichischen Sprachraum auch „Rotzpippen“ oder „Rotzpipn“. Im positiven Sinne können hierfür die Begriffe „Naseweis„, „Schlauberger“ oder auch „Dreikäsehoch“ verwendet werden.

aus http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rotzpippen#.C3.9Cbertragene_Verwendungen

Das wäre wohl der urösterreichische Ausdruck dafür, was sich die Damen und Herren von der TBWA Media Arts Lab da regelmäßig über Microsoft ausdenken. Diesmal animiert und weihnachtlich, aber kein bisschen braver. Ich bleibe dabei: die Kampagne muss aufpassen, dass der PC nicht immer mehr zum liebenswürdigen Tollpatsch wird. Any comments?

via werbenews.at