Stand and Deliver

Iwanted to hook up cable to a TV in the kid’s room. The guy they sent told me he’d have to tear down half the wall to do it and cover the rest in black wire because they’d run out of white. I passed.

He offered me a set-top box. I have cable-ready TV—why do I need a set-top box? I passed.

He offered me Showtime. I passed.

He offered HBO. I said I have it, and I’ve been getting it for three years. He said, “You can’t get it. You don’t have a set-top box.”

This month I got a bill that included $14 for the visit from the guy who did nothing and $10 for the Showtime channel. And they billed me for HBO twice.

I called the cable company. The man and the woman I talked to had clearly been modified to operate in a consumer-controlled environment. They were relentlessly friendly and eager to help.

They just couldn’t.

And that’s why this year’s Association of American Advertising Agencies media conference in Florida may be the most vital of all.

It figures to be a jaunty gathering. There are all these new ways to target all these consumers. Suddenly it’s a boom market again in media reviews. Branded entertainment figures to open up whole new revenue streams—not to mention solidifying media shops’ status as a source for strategic counsel. Media agencies are hiring creatives, even though they said they’d never do that.

Even TiVo has been tamed.

It all promises to be fun in the Florida sun.

But what should really make the event at the Royal Pacific Resort at Universal Orlando valuable is its theme: “Staying in Touch With the Consumer.” Because, as I just demonstrated, that’s a dicey proposition.

You can get people to log on, freeze a frame, zap, zoom and touch like crazy. You can ask their permission, give them a reason to buy, cut through the clutter and optimize every dime you spend. But if you can’t deliver, you might as well not bother.

In other words, if the cable guy can’t solder a wire and chew gum at the same time, what difference does it make if he gets to your house when he’s supposed to, smiles when he talks to you and promises 300 channels?

Now that their ability to influence marketing is greater than it’s ever been, media agencies should start pondering the message. It’s time for those who choose the communication channel to think about counseling what’s going through it. PHD has creatives, after all. The former president of CBS Entertainment works for MindShare, which is developing scripts with Sears and Unilever for ABC.

The “Changing the Media Landscape” panel and the “Reaching the Mobile Consumer” panel and the “Using Media Strategically” panel and the rest of the offerings in Orlando this week are undoubtedly good topics to discuss. But maybe the three-day lovefest ought to go a step beyond where other media conferences have gone. Maybe it’s time for the media to think the unthinkable and look for ways to guide, if not create, the message itself.