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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Is Being Connected Hampering Media Effectiveness?

There is an epidemic spreading across the world.  People are increasingly fanatical about staying in touch and appear to have a mobile device in close proximity at all times.

Here are two recent personal examples that stunned me:

1) Last spring, I was proctoring an exam for university students. I had 31 exams and counted out the same number of students. So far, so good! Just prior to passing out the exams, I scanned the room. One student was looking out the window, apparently gathering her thoughts. Near her, a fellow was furiously going over his study notes one last time. The other 29 students were texting! Why? What could they be saying at that moment? Were they asking a friend when the old boy was going to pass out the exams?  Did they have to wait until exam time to send a message?
2) This past Friday evening my plane touched down after a business trip. Mine had been short but it was clear that there were some weary road warriors on board. As the first row of first class left the plane a strange thing happened. Three of the four people in the second row stood in the aisle and were texting. None of us could get through. Thirty seconds passed, then forty-five. I glanced around and a fellow diagonally across from me rolled his eyes but no one said a word. After a full minute passed, two of the people sent their text messages and left the plane allowing me and 100+ other people to leave. No one said a word. My thought was that the people blocking the aisles were rude and they should have waited thirty seconds to walk in to the terminal before starting their text messages.  Was I in a distinct minority?

This obsession with staying in touch makes me wonder about the effectiveness of our 2012 media world. Two separate studies that I have read this year have projected that 60-61% of viewers have a mobile device in hand while watching TV. A separate Pew Research study indicates that 38% keep the mobile handy “to occupy themselves during commercials.” Some 20% go to the web to verify something that they heard or saw on TV.  On the other hand, I suppose there must be some who use the Smartphone or other device to shop for something or purchase an item that they saw while viewing.

Very recently, a bright young professional suggested to me that people who have taped a show via their DVR may not jump commercials as much as they did a few years ago because they are using their mobile to do something else. Hard to prove but it certainly makes sense.

People in their 20s often use several media types at once—TV, Smartphone, E-mail, texting, etc. Geezers such as I are lucky if we can read a magazine while stealing glances at the TV in front of us.  Is anything really sinking in? How much of this wonderful technology, right at your fingertips, is destroying the effectiveness of your carefully crafted and often expensive advertising campaigns?

We have all fought advertising clutter for a few generations. Now the issue is media clutter, which may be seriously hampering all messages.

Right now, a few books are being published which address the effect of connectedness on us as people and how we relate to others. More scientific and thoughtful studies will emerge in a few years along with some scholarly articles. In the meantime, look beyond rating points and reach & frequency metrics. Is your message really getting through to the connected?

If you would like to contact Don Cole directly, you may reach him at doncolemedia@gmail.com


Saturday, August 18, 2012

Is Marketing Dead?

Back when I was in high school, the Christian world was rocked for a brief moment by a movement dubbed “Is God Dead?”  It was probably started by a theologian name William Hamilton who horrified by the evil and suffering in the world wrote, “We needed to redefine Christianity as a possibility without the presence of God.” Others said that Christian principles were great but as our society was growing more secular the concept of an active God was not necessary.

It never got big but on April 8, 1966 Time Magazine put “Is God Dead” on the cover instead of its usual portrait of a leading political, entertainment or business figure. Such publicity caused the subject to be debated all over the country and gave TIME more notoriety than the newsweekly likely wanted. After a few months, the issue quietly dropped from the scene.

Why do I bring this up? Well, this past week I received an unusual e-mail from a young reader.  With his permission, I quote—“I really do enjoy your blog but don’t your realize that traditional marketing is dead. I don’t care if you are talking advertising as you often do, or public relations or branding or even corporate communications, they are all dead. Buyers today don’t pay attention to marketing efforts—we use the Internet, examine reviews by users, and depend heavily on word of mouth by friends. You raise good points sometimes but Don you are really showing your age.”


My young friend went on to quote some statistics from a Fournaise Marketing Group whose survey of hundreds of CEO’s essentially said that they are hopping mad. Some 73% say that their Chief Marketing Officers (CMO’s) lack business credibility and cannot grow their business significantly. Over 70% resent being asked to spend money without explaining how it will actually increase sales or profits. Also, close to 80% don’t want to hear about the certainty of enhanced brand equity without some financial metric being tied to a marketing program.

Is this new? For my whole career, clients have asked for accountability. We never guaranteed sales increases but could show metrics of increased awareness. CMO’s are short lived these days (usually under two years) so they may be gun shy and timid about forecasts and promises. The questions he raises from Fournaise are identical to those most of us greybeards have heard over the last 40 years.

Is marketing dead? I say no but I do agree that it is much harder to execute plans today. TV does not work as well as it did a decade ago but, all things being equal, it still works better than anything else most of the time. Commercial avoidance will only grow stronger. Mobile, in my opinion, is the next big thing, but players as illustrious as Facebook are having a hard time monetizing it. Can we find a way for creative to work well on mobile? Newspapers will go digital as will many magazine titles if they are to survive. Radio can still be a viable player locally in the right hands. Cable will have cross platform possibilities soon that would have been unheard of a decade ago. And, your “mobile wallet” will change shopping forever.

So, is marketing dead? No, but it is evolving and the pace of the evolution is much greater than we have ever seen to date. I do not agree with my young friend that conventional marketing avenues are all dead but I love his passion and his interest.

If you would like to contact Don Cole directly, you may reach him at doncolemedia@gmail.com

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Poverty, An Aging America, and Television Viewing

Recently, the federal government released their poverty guidelines for 2012. The new standard in the contiguous 48 states for a family of four is $23,050. If your household income is below that, you are considered to be living in poverty.

In the last few weeks, the Associated Press polled a sample of economists, think tanks and academics and asked them to project a poverty rate for the US for this year. The consensus was 15.7% of the population living in poverty, which, if accurate, would be an increase from the 15.1% official figure for 2010 and a new record in modern times.  At the same time 46 million Americans are on food stamps and 6 million Americans currently have no other income but food stamps, which puts them at around one third of the poverty line. The lowest poverty level using the current measurement standards was in 1973 when Dick Nixon presided over a rate of 11.1%.  In 1964 President Lyndon Johnson declared a “War on Poverty” and by 1965 had Medicare and Medicaid in place. Poverty levels declined in Johnson’s term and during the Nixon years that followed but since then, in good times and bad, have tended to inch up.

Part of the problem is that many of the jobs created in recent years have been low paying positions in the service sector. Half of the jobs in the nation pay less than $34,000 according to the Economic Policy Institute. Unless we have more jobs that pay good wages, it may be hard to lower the poverty rate significantly no matter who is elected president or which party wins Congress this November.

Another issue that has come up recently is that Social Security is keeping many millions of elderly from poverty. This is absolutely true despite the heavy attacks of those who attack a system that very much needs reform. But consider this: The “average” woman 65 years old drawing Social Security receives about $950 per month while the average male of the same age gets a monthly check of approximately $1100 (this changes constantly so may be different by the time that you read this post). Also, most do not have defined benefit pensions, large 401k balances or IRA rollovers or private investments spinning off substantial cash. They may not formally be in poverty but most are not living La Dolce Vita either.

Thanks for your patience. Here is how this all ties in to TV. Increasingly, for most Americans TV is their dominant form of entertainment as it is the only one that they can afford. And there are two axioms that you always need to keep in mind when buying television:

1) The less money that you have, the more TV you tend to watch

2) The older you are, the more TV that you tend to watch

So almost by definition, TV has to be becoming more downscale as poverty levels grow and more baby boomers turn 65 (10,000 per day).

Talk to any media planner or media director or media strategist and they will invariably mention the tight targeting that is implicit in any media recommendation that comes from his/her hands or that of the agency team. But, when the buy is executed, is that really true?

Most broadcast negotiators today continue to buy simply on Nielsen’s gender and age statistics. The planner may do analyses from Simmons or MRI and suggest certain programming. That is why for years there has been a two-tiered pricing structure with primetime network TV shows. Negotiators rush in and bid up the cost of programming that delivers a blue chip demographic. As upscale people and particularly upscale younger people view less, advertisers will pay a lot to reach them when they can.

But, in spot broadcast across 200+ markets, a lot of that breaks down. Take local news, for example. Thirty years ago, it may have been marginally upscale in some markets. Now, if you earn six figures plus, you are still at work at 6pm or maybe, if you are lucky, fighting traffic. You are definitely not tuning in to the local news in large numbers at that hour.  If you are buying Adults 18-49, however, those in that age cell watching the news could be moderate to low income and many could be living in poverty. This is not true in every market but definitely the case in many. Ask you local affiliate to do a special tabulation with Nielsen breaking out the income skew of their news or access programming. Even if you are a substantial advertiser, I bet few will be willing to do it. Your salesperson may not even know the real story but I bet the general manager and sales managers do.

Many other programs across the day are increasingly getting more and more downscale. This is a wonderful opportunity for local cable systems to increase market share. Thirty years ago, when cable was beginning to make its mark as a national advertising force, sales people often referred to the new advertising medium as a form of “video publishing.” What they were saying was that with proper channel selection, cable gave you the selectivity of interest that magazines do.  It was a nice positioning and helped the news channels, business channels, Discovery, History Channel, and, of course, ESPN, to gain a nice foothold among viewers.

If cable systems pushed their upscale channels more vigorously, they might see some nice growth. Most advertisers say that they want $50k+ households at a minimum. Well, do the syndicated judge shows give you that? I doubt it across the board. But BBC America, to use an extreme example, does along with dozens of others (As an aside, I tried to find out how many people living in poverty have cable or satellite. I came up empty, as it does not appear to be published anywhere).

As long as buyers use Nielsen for age and gender only, a lot of money will be wasted. A planner may suggest certain programs but how much of that goes out the window when the buy itself is executed? People are busy today, many seriously overworked, and the care and attention to detail that is needed often is not taken. Someone may get a perceived “deal” but the deal means little if the viewers to the programs purchased largely cannot afford or have no interest in your product.  Reaching the downscale and old in many cases does little for your brand.

We all hope for a return to the prosperity of years past. It may be a while or sadly perhaps a long while. In the meantime, the time honored method of buying TV is causing perhaps a billion dollars to be spent in the wrong places.

If you would like to contact Don Cole directly, you may reach him at doncolemedia@gmail.com