Death to the lemmings

This blog – unlike many ad blogs that talk about the future – has always set itself against both the Ostriches and the Lemmings. Of course we all loathe the Ostriches, those who continue to find succour beneath the sands of the status quo. But I have an equal amount of contempt for the Lemmings.
Lemmings are those who at every twist and turn of the advertising industry’s development and in the face of the many challenges it is presented with decide that it is all over bar the shouting and sod off to extol the virtues of the latest wheeze from branded content to word of mouth. This they do rather than face up to the intellectual and creative challenges of sorting the mess out and making the business fit for purpose once more.
One of the most irritating habits of lemmings is their use of that appalling cliche ‘the death of the 30 second ad’. I am going to murder in a particularly cruel and unusual manner the next person who repeats this nonsense (and remember now I have clustr map so I know where you live).
The main reason for dealing out this utterly unreasonable punishment is simply because ‘the death of the 30 second ad’ is just such a boring and unoriginal opinion to hold. No doubt at some point in the dim distant past (probably whenthe first remote control appeared in the shops) this point of view merited interest just as the strategy ‘the family saloon that thinks it is a sports car’ once held some traction.
But the other reason for directing this venom at such an innocuous collection of words is simply accuracy. Now, I’m as alive to the cultural and technological changes that are affecting advertising as anyone but in common with Douglas Holt (See the books section) I still believe in the communicative supremacy of the brand film (be it 30 seconds or 3 minutes) and what strikes me is that far from being under threat, in the last couple of years the means of ad distribution have been, and continue to be,revolutionised.
30 million video downlaods from You Tube daily. 800k people downloading ‘Choir’ directly from the Honda website. Channel 4’s advertising funded mobile content service. Not to mention good old peer to peer distribution of favoured content.
The means of distributing advertising films have exploded and interestingly they are increasingly either very low cost or free raising the prospect of budgets that would otherwise have been spent on distribution going into production and the possiblility of the fat buying point media agencies getting a good kicking.
Meanwhile be warned that if you are ever tempted to use the use the ‘death of the 30 second ad’ cliche I will hunt you down in your bed and deal with you.

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16 Replies to “Death to the lemmings”

  1. Could not agree more. Once people get behind the one dimensional bandwagon, it’s hard to get them to change the headline. It’s always appealing to talk about the demise of things, rather than engaging in the reality, which is more likely to be the addition of things. The media are good at inducing fear because it sells books and magazines to nervous business execs who are looking for ideas to take to their bosses.
    I think that Forrester/ANA’s latest piece of research about the future of TV is probably on the right track…
    “The television industry as we have known it may be challenged on a number of fronts, but it continues to attract significant media investment,” said Bob Liodice, CEO of the ANA. “As new and traditional media alternatives compete more aggressively for a share of the media pie, and marketers look to improve consumer targeting, reduce costs and enhance accountability, television is aggressively responding. With technology-based advances in addressability, enhanced television options, Internet convergence (IPTV) and branded entertainment opportunities, television is likely to continue as the dominant part of the marketing mix.”
    However, as predicted, the media have taken the findings out of context.

  2. Interesting stuff (as always Richard!), but surely this is about media rather than advertising? Surely it is used in relation to the passing of the 30 second ‘spot’ as an effective method to reach and then engage people? It could be the media agencies that will find themselves increasingly pressurised to adapt rather than the advertising agencies.
    It could be that it will become increasingly difficult to own an audience engagement strategy without a creative execution. If we are no longer solely relying on renting other peoples’ media – but creating emotional communications that people like engaging with – where is the added value if you remove the buying element?
    Another reality about the over-use of ‘the death of…’ could be that we have done little to portray ourselves in a favourable light over the years. My finely tuned acro-filters tell me that the phrase is used with a certain amount of thinly veiled pleasure at the thought we could all be hung by our own petard.
    We must also stop trivialising everything we do like appearing on shows like the Apprentice and Channel 4 special report with smug faces – what on earth was Saatchi’s doing with GUM and ‘CULT-GEIST’? This is exactly the wrong thing to do. A recent Washington Post mentions that its stated raison d’etre was to ‘target teenagers and people in their 20s for advertising disguised as entertainment’. I nearly retched. Way to go Saatchi – nice use of ‘disguised’ too.
    This is marketing pollution that people love to throw back in our faces. Do they not understand how this sort of thing destroys ‘enchantment’ (candidate for no. 17 Richard perhaps?)
    Its not clever, it will never be big and it gives people a very large stick to beat us with. Rant over.

  3. Ohhhhh excellent comments – and as usual rather more insightful than the original provocation.
    Where to begin?
    Well I found an excellent phrase in a review of Seth Godin’s Big Moo book, “New economy histrionics” which I rather like even though I am a devout reader of Seth’s blog.
    I was being rather cheeky about whether the cliche is 30 second spot or 30 second ad I know – a little lingustic slight of hand. And in truth I am no apologist for television advertising.
    But what I do believe is that the brand film is a unquly powerful business tool that at its best (which rarely happens of course) has real potency on TV but also a new lease of life in the cinema and through a miriad of other exciting new distribution channels.
    And that’s where the comment about the inseperability of medium and creative is so relevant. Any 30 second ‘spot’ is only as good as the work you fill it with so any discussion of the merits of the television medium is irrelevant unless it factors in the quality of the work. It is why I find it hugely dispiriting that these conversations about the future seem be limited to the thinkers rather than including the voices of the doers – the people who create engaging communications day in day out.
    And I totally buy in to the ridiculous death wish the advertising industry seems to be cursed with. There aren’t many graphic designers running around saying graphic design is dead nor many architects running around saying architecture is dead (though many in both industries would wish for radical change and improvement as I do for the ad industry).
    And finally – never, ever, ever be seduced into appearing on TV beyond a light spot of punditry. What we do does not make edifying viewing something that St Lukes taught us a decade ago but that Saatchis have yet to learn.

  4. Darn, I was hoping you’d be trackback enabled so I could goad you with a “Huntingdon Wants To Kill Lemmings In Their Beds” post-title. IMHO, the “Death of the 30sec Business Model” would be a more interesting discussion…. I do think that some parts of the advertising business (including clients) are paying the price for a lack of innovation over the last 10 years. But it looks like we might be on the brink of a period of massive creative destruction, which is pretty exciting, and a great excuse to declare open season on ostritches, lemmings, guinea pigs, greyhounds and any other errant media wildlife ;-)

  5. James,
    I wonder if you might enlighten us a little more on your hypothesis that we are on the brink of a period of creative destruction.

  6. Surely. I refer to the economic use of creative destruction as captured by Joseph Schumpeter which you can read about here…
    …which all sounds very grand but can be thought of as periods of major industrial/commercial transformation – with some complex economic stuff bolted on for good measure.
    This seems to be a suitable description of the current changes in the world of media.
    We are seeing a really big alteration in the way the market works (broadcast > network) but far from being all doom and gloom – or as simplistic as ‘ad don’t work’ – it frames it as the type of seismic change that all markets witness periodically. It also suggest a period of exciting change and opportunity.
    But really I just want to shoot unproductive wildlife.

  7. Schumpter’s theory is a bit like radical innovation James but more in the form of punctuated equilibrium. Specifically, because innovation is the primary driver of economic growth and because companies think about themselves in terms of what they make, rather that what is the consumer need I am fulfilling, then entrepeneurs tend to take markets by storm, wiping the old guard away.
    Richard – entirely agree with you that uttering Mr Jaffe’s expression has become a beatable offence. It is lazy thinking. Video was no more the death of TV than the internet will be the death of newspaper [well maybe ;)].
    However I think there is a significant difference between film content and the 30″ spot. The power of brand film as content to engage and persuade is beyond question – indeed the emergence of clip culture characterised by the incredible rise of YouTube lends itself even further towards short film content.
    BUT: The 30″ spot in an Ad break on televsion as an interruption to a programme is a very old and increasingly inappropriate way of delivering that content. TV has evolved in the last few decade. Interactivity is now integral to many of the new programmes – Big Brother being a classic example – and yet the form of the spot is still largely a film of 30 seconds. Even timelengths rarely vary.
    Once we have a complete on demand media culture, where timeshited viewing is the norm , PVRs are ubiquitous, the interruptive form of commercial content delivery will cease to be pertinent.
    Coca Cola are attempting to move in to the networked model – generating content and allowing consumers to distribute it and watch is when they want – see for details.
    O brave new world, That has such people in’t!

  8. Not the standard of debate I had hoped to encourage on this site. Rick can you expand on why you take such issue with James’ thinking?
    Faris, totally agree I just want to stick the boot into the associated involvement merchants with their rag bag of branded content ideas and product placement opportunities.

  9. Good chat. I agree that CD is another (rather cool) name for innovation – albeit on a massive scale. I think it’s relevance is that the marketing industry was slow to react to change and allowed an entrepreneur – Google – to step in and claim $6bn of annual ad revenues by tweaking the existing model.
    Btw, Faris, I like your new word for choosing the time that you watch programming… ;-)
    Rick – I’m adding snarks to the list of redundant mammals.

  10. I think that I am starting to get somewhere on this. Our problem as a creative community is that we keep describing our product in media terms – television commercial, radio ad, press ad, banner, rich media, event sponsorship, branded content, online, blogs you name it.
    Apart from the people who just say they create media neutral ideas but this is a massive cop out in any case – using the term media neuttral is another offence punishable by death by the way.
    We need to start describing what we do in terms of the raw material not where it goes.
    We don’t make television commericials we make films (which can then be cut into long form, short form, engagement, interuption, on air, on line whatever). We don’t create posters we create 2D communications ideas that can be made into press ads, banners, actual banners, you name it). Similarly there is always going to be a need to create sound only ideas and participative experiences. That would be my manifesto for a new creative agency – film, sound, stills, experiences.

  11. Ok I won’t mention MNP, chief ;)
    But I agree – and increasingly this distinction will cease to have any meaning. When TV is distributed across the interweb, dynamically formatted for any device, when radio is the same, when even print is digitally distributed to ebooks,,1747329,00.html
    then the idea of channels begins to crumble. We will have to generate content – be it film, image, sound, narrative, game, experience – and then allow users to engage with it on their own terms.
    On demand is the death of interruption. So we have to create content that people actively want, think about the form in which they would like to consume it, and understand the distribution mechanisms that they utilise.
    Whether or not that’s media neutrality… well…;-)
    ps James feel free to use my inadvertent neologism ;)

  12. re: smug saatchis
    ask them how many pitches since they converted one???
    17:0 to the competition
    no wonder they think the 30″ ad is dead

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