Most people agree that the current economic calamity is severely challenging usual models of doing business. While industries such as housing, financial services and automobiles are being reborn on a large scale, our discussions of change in advertising are mainly nibbling at the margins of change. We talk about the rise of tactics like social media and mobile, or complain of more push for ROI. However, a sweeping new approach to advertising is already here. And while some fail spectacularly with the traditional approach of new equity campaigns, others are quietly carving the next industry evolution.
For decades these pages have detailed the historic approach to brand turnarounds. The CMO leaves to spend more time with his family, a new change agent is brought in and the old agency barely has time to say hello before it’s sent packing in favor of whatever firm presents the sexiest spec ads. Soon, a shiny new TV campaign is launched, often featuring well-known celebrities and a fresh tagline.
Recently we have watched this model play out on some of the biggest brands in the business. Gatorade reacted to competitive pressure by launching the “Got G?” campaign with the help of dozens of big-time athletes. Microsoft paid Jerry Seinfeld $10 million to create the “ad about nothing” to fend off Apple. Honda tapped shills such as Danica Patrick for a series of documentary films celebrating “The Power of Dreams.” Ask.com’s new CEO, Jim Safka, bought a quirky campaign aimed at “injecting some emotion” into the search category.
Alas, despite the hope, hype and hundreds of millions of dollars in time and media, none of these campaigns have caught on. Gatorade is back to the drawing board after watching share drop 6 percent through the first six months of 2009, per PepsiCo’s Q2 earnings announcement. Honda’s sales in July 2009 were down 17 percent from the previous year, and have only rebounded lately thanks to the federal government’s “Cash for Clunkers” program. And Ask.com continues to cede more of its slim search share.
While this tired playbook is on its last legs, other companies in these same categories are finding success with an entirely different approach. Red Bull continues to gain ground by hosting sports and entertainment events around the world. Hyundai’s Assurance program, which offers protection from lost jobs and rising fuel prices, drove record share and profit — despite its Super Bowl ad finishing second to last in the USA Today ad ranking. Apple’s iPhone campaign is a series of helpful guides to apps for topics like small business management. Speaking of apps, instead of providing more syrupy feel-good fodder, MasterCard recently launched a Priceless Picks iPhone app, which helps people discover and share meaningful stores, restaurants and activities in their home towns.
There has never been more competition for the attention of customers, and they have learned to ignore the thousands of ad impressions that they are exposed to each day. The economy has made them even more value conscious and advertising skeptical. Our only way to win is by creating advertising that earns and rewards their attention.
This new model, marketing with meaning, has two key elements: It’s marketing that people choose to engage with, and marketing that itself improves people’s lives. Where once we made great products and spammed people into buying them, we must reward their attention with value-added advertising.
The model offers opportunities as varied and unique as the brands that follow the approach. Nike has turned its entire marketing plan toward services for training athletes. T-Mobile is creating spontaneous events in London to give people an experience worth recording and sharing on their mobile devices. Procter & Gamble is teaching people in developing nations the importance of brushing their teeth and washing their hands. And a lunch spot near my office is using Facebook to let me know the daily specials.
This reset of marketing strategy also elevates us from the constant debate over topics like “should my brand be on Twitter?” Instead, companies identify a business objective or challenge, and uncover customer insights around higher level needs that are related to the brand. From this, marketers and agencies create ideas around adding value, which naturally cascade into choices around the right tactics — be they mobile or MySpace.
This next evolution of marketing will likely upend many of our established structures. New measures like engagement threaten to replace impressions, which will destroy some media and elevate others. Digital will finally get its fair share of the budget — not by making bigger banners and pre-roll video, but by uniquely delivering experiences and services that people share with their friends. New media such as mobile and gaming will leap over the interruption phase and move directly into a meaningful marketing approach. Already, the investment by marketers on value-added apps likely exceeds their spending on mobile banner ads.
I also have hope that this new model will add meaning to the lives of all of us in marketing and advertising roles. Instead of sitting at the bottom of the career respect spot next to used car salesmen, we now have the opportunity to do work that people enjoy, praise and share. In this reborn world many of us wish to do more good in our lives, and the marketing work that we do every day is a great place to start.
Bob Gilbreath is chief marketing strategist at Bridge Worldwide and author of The Next Evolution of Marketing: Connect With Your Customers by Marketing With Meaning. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.