A MESSAGE FROM CANNES
It’s Time To Watch The Watchers
By Erwin Ephron
Did you get that faint SOS from the Cannes International Advertising Festival last month? It read “Mayday! Our audience has gone from watching commercials to making them. . .”
I couldn’t help thinking that’s the smoke above, what about the fire below? Shouldn’t we worry less about consumers creating advertising and worry more about them ignoring and avoiding it?
Can you blame them? Marketers say consumers are in charge and carefully limit them to answering surveys. Yet make no mistake, today’s consumer is in physical control. They willfully decide which media they’ll watch, read, listen to or click and they certainly control which ads they’ll attend to. Consumer-centric is not about who creates advertising; it’s about who has the power to ignore it.
Commercial indifference makes the industry’s
excitement about the new buy-sell based on Nielsen commercial ratings seem
like a hollow celebration.
We’re still counting people who claim to view the set, not viewers who
actually watch commercials.
THE JURASSIC AGE OF MEDIA
Think back. In the Jurassic Age of Media, when computers lived in chilly rooms and consumers welcomed ads, media content gave us access to the public mind. Nothing sinister, just Advertising.
The handshake deal was “Here’s your program, watch my ad.”
Then the meteor shower of technology hit. It splintered big media into abundant choice and the economic pressures of smaller audiences increased commercial clutter. Soon consumers, fed up with the 12-commercial pod and advertising everywhere, stopped respecting ads. And that’s where we are today. Searching for ways to re-open the consumer’s mind to advertising.
Leading the hunt are at least a dozen familiar faces on the white horse of engagement. But engagement isn’t the lost model of advertising, acceptance is. Consumers once accepted ads in trade for content. “Engagement” has a far higher price. It requires consumers accept the advertising and also that the ads be engaging; interesting, useful, fun.
Engagement is not a media problem. Media get paid for attracting audience. The simple model is “media deliver consumers, ads produce response.” That hasn’t changed.
But media are also responsible for the quality of what is delivered which has decayed sharply over time. The raw analogy is a Fresh Seafood Shop delivering indifferent fish. Specifically, media are accountable for delivering targeted, attentive consumers. And that is where new media measurements should focus: the quality and attentiveness of consumers delivered to the advertising. These are the media variables that facilitate advertising engagement and encourage consumer response.
And although we are able to measure the combined effect of media and creative by looking at response, the evidence shows they are better measured separately. An engaging ad can be crippled by an inattentive audience, just as an attentive audience can be wasted on a hapless ad. To manage advertising, we need to know the individual contributions of media (in facilitating) and advertising (in achieving), response.
Why are we so disorientated by something that seems obvious? My late partner, Dick Raboy had a sign on his office wall that read, “The Golden Rule. He who has the gold makes the rules.” This certainly applies to research, where he who spends the money decides what we get to know.
Audience data no longer tells us what we need to know to plan and buy media intelligently. Viewer, reader and listener counts substantially overstate the number of people who actually see or hear the advertising. Yet we don’t get to work with the real numbers.
The reason is only the media spend substantial sums for on-purpose audience research, so only the media decide how to spend them. They fund the search for bigger audiences (like those away-from-home and on-campus and the new Nielsen A2M2 hunt for Video viewers wherever you are). They do research to demonstrate that PVR’s have a negligible effect on commercial viewing. They are not interested in examining the severe limitations of demo-targeting, the problems of mainstream commercial avoidance with the remote or simple inattention. Would you be?
Agencies, working at procurement negotiated rates and harassed by the ever-changing new media are hard-pressed to pay for Nielsen, Arbitron and MRI.
Advertisers, who pay for it all, are oddly disengaged. They gave at the office. They say their contribution to audience research is in the CPM’s they pay. But that funding model steals their right to vote.
The unprecedented and surprising level of consumer control of media, thanks to blogs, Podcasting and online video, was the talk of the industry at this year's Cannes Festival. But I think the Cannes SOS is an over-reaction. I don’t think our audiences will go from watching commercials to making them.
that most are watching them now.
- July 14, 2006 -