Unless you've been in a "While You Were Sleeping" situation for the last decade, you know the platforms that hold our attention have massively changed. But, while our media has evolved, the way we advertise hasn't.
When movies were first created, they were simple, single- or two-scene setups. Take a look at "Come Along, Do!" from 1898. It's pretty much a stage play, filmed. Then, when people started making TV commercials, they were radio spots, with some product shots (see for yourself). And now, look online. You see a bunch of commercials, people thinking it's exactly the same as putting ads on TV.
Every medium started out as an echo of its predecessor. But, people started to learn that it could be more. Different.
We've gotten used to how we've done it for the past 50 years, talking about "the golden age" of advertising, when we created one universal brand message. When all we made were these things called "commercials": these one-shot, one-size-fits-all videos and images, made to always say the same thing to everybody. Nostalgia has made us stubborn.
Commercials are sledgehammers. Content is accupuncture.
But we don't need to do that anymore. With the maturity of the internet, media is shifting. This isn't like antenna TV moving to cable. This is radio changing to TV. The internet is no longer a place where the edges of society dwell, home only to "1337 h4x0rs" and gamers. It's become the core of society for communication and media.
And with that media shift comes a need to rethink what we create for it. Not just because we can, but because it lets us create work that more relevant to people and, let's be honest, is more efficient, which clients love.
Goodbye commercials, hello content.
WTF is the Difference?
Now, before the pitchforks come out, I'm not saying commercials are dead. Far from it. But let's get something straight: commercials are a sledgehammer. They're indiscriminate and powerful. But they're not always the right tool.
Content, when contextual, is accupuncture: a needle on a pressure point. And if you use the right needle on the right pressure point, it's more effective and more efficient than any sledgehammer.
The reason's simple: it's better to say the right thing, to the right person, at the right time.
People vs. Person
We've spent the past 75 years of advertising figuring out how to talk to people. We've spoken in these universal metaphors (babies, puppies, sex) and leaned on pop culture and celebrities to relate to as many people as possible, with one message.
Don't talk to people. Talk to a person.
But now, with media targeting, sequencing, programmatic media, and other countless ad tech, we have more control than ever before over whom we talk to. We can find the groups within the whole, and treat them uniquely. So, we don't have to talk to people, because we can talk to a person.
Because a brand means something different to every person.
The Same Message vs. the Right Message
People love brands, but they love themselves even more. So, when you combine the two, you create something incredibly powerful.
Take Nike, for example. Universally, it has a general brand message. But to some, it's about female empowerment. To others, pushing past expectations. To the unathletic, it's aspirational. To the athletes, it's constant encouragement. Everyone relates to the brand differently, through countless unique, individual themes and messages.
It's our job to understand how each person is different and how those differences define what we say.
All the Time vs. The Right Time
Let's talk about efficiency: today's clients' favorite word.
There's an insane amount of inefficiency in always talking to everybody the same way. You're wasting their time and your money. Let me explain...
Whether it's on TV, radio, or even Facegram or Snapchat, if you're talking to a big, broad group of people, you're paying for every person in that group's attention. But, whatever you're saying is only relevant to a fraction of those people, at that moment. But you're still paying for all those other people, too.
Different people need to hear different messages at different times. You may want people to be aware of a brand, because they've never heard of it before. But others already bought into it and just want to know about the product. And others may just need to know how to get it.
So, if we're smarter about who we're talking to, and understand when they need to hear what we have to say, we'll be more cost-effective, reducing how much attention and money we're wasting.
And you'll be the client's hero.
Co-existing, Not Replacing
The first movies, the first tv commercials, and the first digital ads were just echoes of their predecessors. We didn't know any better.
Treating new media like its ancestor is a waste. It ignores the innovations in the medium. And when it comes to online platforms, we're starting to understand that "content" is what feels native, not "commercials."
But that also doesn't mean the old medium is gone. Stage plays are still around, radio spots still play, and tv commercials are still watched.
Every new platform needs to define its native language. And the sooner you lose the nostalgia, the quicker you'll learn to speak it.