For Amex, ‘Everything Is Content’

NEW YORK Changes in technology, the rising popularity of the Web and declining television ratings have forced American Express to shift from a TV-driven approach to marketing a decade ago to a more diverse media mix that seeks to engage consumers on their terms, AmEx vice president of global advertising Diego Scotti said this morning at an Advertising Week event.

In 1994, about 80 percent of AmEx’s total marketing budget went toward TV, with the remainder spent on print ads, Scotti said. Today, less than half of AmEx’s marketing spend goes toward TV and the rest is split among other media channels and events, according to Scotti.

Why? Because consumers who 20 years ago sat in front of their TVs and waited for marketers to come to them now control the flow of brand messages via technologies such as TiVo as well as “Do Not Call” lists, said Scotti in a speech to about 100 industry executives at the New York Times Co. building in Times Square.

The company’s global marketing budgets for those years were not available. But a snapshot of the U.S. major media outlay reveals that AmEx spent more than $150 million in 1994, according to TNS Media Intelligence. Last year’s U.S. media spend was around $600 million, and the company spent $240 million through the first six months of 2006, per TNS.

“Today, consumers are already in the midst of a conversation” via platforms like blogs and social networking sites, Scotti said.

“So as an advertiser, if you’re going to interrupt this conversation, you better have something to say that’s going to add value to that conversation,” he said. “We, at American Express, in fact all of us in this room, need to be part of that conversation if we want to remain relevant. We have to talk less and listen more.”

Today’s “I’ll decide, not you” generation demands more authentic and rewarding content that takes the form of a dialogue, Scotti added. Implicit in that approach is the realization that marketers have less control and must embrace what Scotti called “consumer co-ownership” of brand messages.

To illustrate his point, Scotti showed long-form TV spots from AmEx’s “My life. My card” campaign that were created by film directors M. Night Shyamalan and Wes Anderson. Those spots gave rise to a contest that invited consumers to tell their own stories in 15-second clips. AmEx received nearly 2,000 entries—about 10 times more than it expected—and the winner was selected by a panel of director-judges at the Tribeca Film Festival, which AmEx sponsors.

Another example: the “Roddick v. Pong” campaign that ran during the U.S. Open and included a game on an AmEx Web site that attracted more than 1.8 million visitors in its first two weeks of existence. About 5 percent of those visitors clicked through to get information about applying for a card, Scotti said.

“Ultimately, we must think content. No longer can we view our job as filling gaps between other peoples’ content,” he added. “Soon there won’t be gaps to fill because everything is content.”

Scotti’s presentation was part of a weeklong breakfast series sponsored by Advertising Women of New York.