Until I returned permanently to Baltimore six weeks ago, I have been traveling 200,000 miles per year annually for decades. I visited with local TV stations, cable interconnects, magazines, clients, client prospects, and all sorts of new media sales teams. Today, I still talk and e-mail with hundreds in the media and visit some face to face.
What I see and hear stuns me. The broadcast media, as a group, are in almost complete denial about what is going on in our world of media. When the relentless march of broadcast fragmentation is brought up, local station people respond with "have you seen our local news. It is extraordinary." I have and it is not.
Ask industry people about how DVR's are changing the effectiveness of TV as an advertising medium and the more mature (in age only) say something to the effect that they hope they will be retired before the effects are truly felt in the marketplace. What kind of answer is that?
We recognize that no one likes change. However, sitting back and pretending that it does not exist is not only a non-solution, it is a danger to the future of our industry.
Today, more than ever, this is a time for truth. From our perspective, here is the reality of where we are:
1) the Internet is not "the" solution. A surprising number of people who should know better feel that on line activity will simply take the place of TV over time. Yes, it will help and continue to grow as an advertising medium, but, there is nothing out there that will ever replace the dynamic mass selling medium that television has been. (we will discuss streaming video in an upcoming post)
2) Today's consumers are now in control and they are not going back to being passive viewers again. Life "on-demand' appeals to people. DVR's, blogs, You tube, Hulu.com, The Slingbox, streaming video, new cable platforms, and many other possibilities have permanently upset the TV landscape. Watch how a young adult uses media--are you positioning your campaigns to reach young people well or at all for that matter?
3) It will be harder and much more expensive to bring out new brands and products. Time tested tactics such as "roadblocks" or vertical strikes in primetime are now virtually impossible. Buy 80 channels deep and you still cannot replicate the reach a conventional TV buy provided not that many years ago. And what of the cost?
4) Because of #3, the entrenched players are in a very good position over the next 10 years. Watch for lots of line extensions
coming from big players in package goods and many other disciplines. Nestle, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Heinz, and Kellogg along with the major soap companies will be unusually well positioned both domestically and abroad.
5) As mentioned, way too many (but not all) local broadcasters are in denial. To say that they are re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titantic gives them too much credit. Winning the night with a three rating is good in that a win is a win. But it is still a three rating. What are the other 97% of the DMA doing?
There is also a terrible danger with the presence of legacy mentalities out there. People sit in meetings and nod vigorously when I say that TV is losing its luster as a sales medium. But, moments later they say something to the effect that the solution to TV's slow death is simply adding more weight. Add more weight? They will still miss the people that they are missing now! All additional weight will do is add significant frequency to the same folks they reach now who are heavy TV viewers and not always the most desirable prospects.
Another huge problem is that most new media options will not work. In recent years and today, I try to give prospective clients a laundry list of media tests in new business presentations. The audience is more than polite; they are truly attentive. But, invariably, someone in the room will say "Tell us which ones will work and we will do those."
Well. We are recommending tests in these sessions. And, by definition, we do not know which will work. We expect and hope to be surprised and hit a 500 foot home run with some of them or, more realistically, one of them. The truth is that most will fail and fail quickly and badly.
There is a wonderful scene in both the stage and film versions of "1776." The fiery John Adams is watching fellow delegates to the Continental Congress pick apart and try to soften Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence. Finally, in exasperation, he rises and says "Gentlemen, this is a revolution. We have to offend someone."
Many of us with a bit of grey hair have had the privilege of working in an industry that was exciting and fun but somewhat predictable. Those days are over but even those who see it clearly are afraid to acknowledge it publicly. We desperately need a bit of the spirit of John Adams if we are to become founding fathers of the next generation of media professionals.
This is arguably the most exciting time to work in advertising and media since 1953 when TV really hit its stride as an advertising medium. Change is unsettling but no one can hold back the ongoing tidal wave. Embrace the change, challenge, if necessary offend the status quo, or the revolution will soon make you irrelevant.
If you would like to contact Don Cole directly, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org