Bob Garfield at Ad Age has been promoting his chaos scenario for the last couple of years. This week he updated his thesis in Chaos Scenario 2.0. A lot of this was sharing evidence of the crumbling of 'old' media as newer media take hold. All fair observation. But I disagree with a lot of the inferences he makes about what this means for brands, communication and ad agencies.
First, he makes a rather odd, to my mind, distinction between 'new' and 'old' media. The argument is that 'old' media was about mass audiences, while the 'new' world is all about the individual - customization, personalization, etc. Ergo, mass communication is dead. Isn’t this a rather simplistic view? Isn’t the reality that great brands and great communication are shared by people (arguably, they have become one of the few remaining things that can bind people)? Aren’t we herd animals not a bunch of individuals?
Isn’t the distinction instead really one about the approach brands need to take today? It’s no longer good enough to push messages at people. Rather, it’s about working out what your authentic enthusiasm is above and beyond your category – your social mission – and providing useful, interesting stuff, be it an ad, an event, a product, a service, and doing lots of executions of it that will attract people to your brand like a magnet. Brands that today have real loyalty and success, as Doug Atkin pointed out a couple of years ago, have a belief system that can create cult like behavior around it. Perhaps it’s this personal brand-centric bias – that a brand’s belief and behavior attract fans, rather than an analysis of customer needs driving 'problem solving' through innovation and messaging – that leaves me disagreeing with all these soundbites of the consumer being in control. Yes, they can choose to ignore you but they should not control you.
Second, I disagree with the inference that because the ‘old’ media model of interruption is eroding, ad content is irrelevant. If anything, I believe the model has flipped and content (and here let me define content as ads and actions eg run London, design, jet blue check in kiosks, etc) is more important than ever. One of the joys of the internet is that it has leveled the playing field in favor of the good content triumphing over the OK to bad content that has huge media investment (rather similar to Rob’s point about Coca-Cola and its distribution power). Brands now live in a meritocracy. No longer is it about how much money you have but whether what you do is useful and interesting.
Content is important. And brand film is still powerful. Proof lies in the fact that three of the top five most viewed YouTube films of all time are TV ads, and the Millward Brown research that shows the ‘best’ ads are 30 times more likely to be watched than the poorest performing ads. The beauty of the ‘new’ media is that you as a brand no longer risk having your content zapped through because of what the other brand did in the ad before yours. Great, interesting ads won’t be missed because of the 80% of average, meaningless wallpaper that gets produced.
Sorry for the ramble but I needed to get this stuff out of my head.