Art & Commerce: Converging Lines

After the party’s over: a post-millennial prediction
Let’s assume, for the sake of discussion, that long ago in a galaxy far away, an entire advertising industry was riding on a crack high. And, so long as all the agencies could count on their next big score, the universe remained euphoric.
Fantasy? I think not. Right now, this rip on George Lucas’ gig is a fair description of the state of the business, at least in San Francisco. The source? The astonishing amount of funded startups fueled by the prospect of Internet insta-millions. Although the collective mantra is “please don’t let it end,” we all know it will when the market concludes there are enough online pet sites, mall sites and whatever-a-sick-mind-can-conjure sites.
Fewer venture-funded startups mean fewer staggering ad budgets. Smaller budgets translate to smaller agency revenues, salaries and, sigh, profits. Remember what new business used to look like–the same pool of mangy agency dogs lapping at the same pool of dirty pitch water? Get ready for dƒjˆ vu, all over again.
At that point, click heels, we all wake up and smell the JavaScript. But while some parts of the business may revert to form, I believe that our advertising world will have changed. The reason: the ubiquitous URL that seems not only de rigeur but du jour in this pre-millennial period, whether the ad is designed with brand, retail or response objectives in mind.
What does this mean? Let’s slip on the term “convergence” and see if it models for us as well as it does for the technologists who are turning your TV into a computer into a movie theater.
Convergence, in this narrow interpretation, means the bright lines between various advertising disciplines will begin to erode. I see a brand message with a URL. Ergo, I visit the Web site–voila, direct response. Alternatively, I see a coupon with a URL. I visit the Web site and click-through to the resident brand ad.
Of course, nitpickers will point out this line of reasoning misses the essential underpinnings of the various marketing disciplines. Brand is about awareness, image and trust; direct response is about offer, incentive and risk relief. To them, I would reply: yeah, but what happens when brand flows seamlessly into promotion, promotion into response and response into permission?
What you might have, via convergence, is a new advertising milieu–one governed by a new two-part frame of reference: passive communication, designed to make it easy for the consumer to become accepting of your product, and interactive communication, designed to make it easy for people to sample and get value in return.
For devotees of the creative ninefold path, this augurs well for an upward spiral in quality. In the passive mode, extreme creativity will be required to beat out all those other great ads for attention and resonance. In the interactive mode, faithfulness to the spirit and tonality of the brand will be essential not just in the messaging but in the ergonomics of the experience.
In the ’60s, luminaries like Bill Bernbach argued that consumers don’t give a rat’s ass for the distinctions drawn by ad professionals. Every creative message is a statement of brand, every ad a reason to try–or disregard–a product. Now that’s genius. Even without knowing about the Web, the advertising high of the ’90s or jargon like permission marketing, he knew we were headed for convergence.
And here it comes. K
Jef Loeb is chairman and creative director of Katsin/Loeb Advertising in San Francisco.