August 8, 2005

the multi-billion dollar suicide pact between clients and television


An advertising creative makes the following comment in a recent gapingvoid post:

TV clearly is not the magic bullet it once was for advertisers. It's been on the wane for quite some time now.

And people's attention is splintering in many different directions. The online world being the biggest beneficiary of BIG TV's demise. No argument there. But as an award-winning Superbowl ad writing type, can someone tell me how blogging specifically could help let's say, the likes of Budweiser who need to reach a mass audience?

For marketing hand-made cheese that was matured in sixteenth century stone cellars, blogging is a no-brainer.

For marketing Velveeta, it's trickier. Maybe impossible.

Both Budweiser and Velveeta are permanently locked into what Seth Godin calls the "TV-Industrial Complex". And they have no credible way of freeing themselves from it.

i.e. TV is as much a part of their brands' DNA as any molecule. So as the Complex dies, so Budweiser and Velveeta die along with it.

This is what Madison Avenue's main job is, from now on. Handling the multi-billion dollar suicide pact between clients and television.

Unless there's some big plan I don't know about.

[UPDATE:] Seth joins in the discussion:

Can the world of blogs etc. help Budweiser? Only on the margins. The world of new media is not the place to launch the next one-size-fits-all mega brand, nor is it the place to shore a flagging brand like that up.

Instead of using new media to promote the next megafilm from Disney or Julia Roberts, it permits movies like WAL-MART: The High Cost of Low Price to get made at all.

FastCompany also has a word:
Big brands starting blogs has been laughable projects at best and mostly offensive. Perhaps this is the only way that big brands can imagine the use of social media. Being down-to-earth and human is the antithesis of what they stand for.

Posted by hugh macleod at August 8, 2005 9:34 AM | TrackBack

What's wrong with Shells-n-Cheese? Yummy :D

Posted by: Ulrich Hobelmann at August 8, 2005 1:06 PM

I certainly agree that TV ads are dying/dead.

However, I don't see where Blogs could not help Budweiser.

Why couldn't their "True" campaign become a Blog about things that are "true" in life?

They have a long story written in script on their cans (that nobody probably reads) that could be the start of turning their story into a Blog. Or....Why not a behind the scenes Blog on one of the largest manufacturing/distributing/marketing companies in the world?

There are stories to be told to and by a very large fan base and tons of market feedback to be learned. Not a bad base to begin a Blog.. I must say.

Budweiser is locked into the TV Industrial Complex only if they choose to NOT TRY new ways to share information and value.

Posted by: Howard Mann at August 8, 2005 1:26 PM

Wow. All this time I thought you just 'said' you drew the cartoons on the back of business cards; like I 'say' Ill stop reading blogs and spend more time working.
Turns out you actually do! Just goes to show.

Posted by: misterchris at August 8, 2005 1:48 PM

At last :-) I have long waited to read Hugh say blogging may not be suitable for all brands. However I didn't expect this "multi-billion-dollar-suicide-pact" twist.
I agree with Howard Mann that Bud can start some sort of new media (read blogging): I once read the brand had planned (coming this fall) to launch a reality TV show centered around the preparation of their next Superbowl ad; a blog may very nicely complement the show.

Now I don't quite agree that all TV is doomed: it is true consumer-programmed media is rising, but many people will still just want to sit down after a hard day of work and get lobotomized by whatever other programmers will have prepared at their attention. Some sort of segmentation will occur between active and passive media. Now if the programmed media will be so by professional programmers or a next-door/next-country individual, this I don't know.

Posted by: Bruno at August 8, 2005 6:42 PM

There is no "right" answer...TV advertising dead, TV ads not dead...Dead Tree Journalism - not dead...well, you get the idea. It's evolution in all its glory and confusion. While I don't think TV has to be part of the "big brands" DNA, it may be culturally and psychologically impossible for them to change much. It'd be interesting to do a study where one of them just stopped cold turkey re advertising on TV. Personally, as one who loves retro "stuff" and is constantly in search of the perfect Mac & Cheese - Velveeta has a lot to work with, if they would - ahem - think outside the box.

Posted by: Mary Schmidt at August 8, 2005 9:54 PM

Excuse, me. What about Scoble? A firm like Anheuser-Busch has far more employees that a microbrewery. If you give all those employees blogs, you have the ability to swamp the internet with conversations about your beer and how you make it.

Bud is still going to have a market at sporting events, places where beer is sold on tap, in huge quantities, meaning it will still have a connection to sports. Sporting events will continue to have a large television audience for some time.

Another thing about blogging and and beer, is all the law that surrounds advertising beer. The breweries must make an effort to ensure that they are not adverting to children, so a blogging strategy for beer cannot be as open.

Which doesn't mean I don't agree.

Posted by: Alan Gutierrez at August 8, 2005 10:11 PM

Myself, Clay Shirky, Jeneane Sessum, b!x and others were debating this back in 2002. Good to see the conversation still going on.

Posted by: Kevin Marks at August 9, 2005 12:32 AM

to Alan: I honestly think that if you cross into a blog and then read some comment about beer from employees, it will make people run away from it.

this approach I think could be give more thought, because there isn't space for blogs/comment about every brand.

if you crossed them they would be seen like... commercials.

s p am

Posted by: g at August 9, 2005 1:05 AM

It is obvious that the penetration of T.V. ads is shrinking, and advertising dollars are shifting to new media.

However, this doesn't mean the big brand like Budweiser are at any kind of a disadvantage in reaching their customers, and infecting their minds with the desire for "the cool crisp taste that never lets you down."

Big corporations have more power than ever to control the delivery of their content, and statistically track the effectiveness of their campaigns. They know you and they can market directly to you. This means that the corporations that understand new media are going to win big. REALLY BIG.

Posted by: Adam Saunders at August 9, 2005 2:07 AM

adam: "for the cool clean taste that won't fill you up and never lets you down...make it a bud light". that's bud light not budweiser. but your point is well made.

Posted by: teeveedubya at August 9, 2005 3:57 AM

So Budweiser and Velveeta lose in the new media space, but handcrafted cheeses and microbrews win? Sweeeeeet!

I wonder if the reason we get such bland megabrand products isn't as much a function of the medium in which they advertise as anything else. If you've got to throw millions of dollars into reaching the mass market, your product has to be innoffensive as possible to as many people as possible. So, water it down, remove any distinctive tastes, and load it with chemicals so that it'll keep during shipping. The feedback loop of clever advertising (which leads people to give greater preference to "belonging to the group" over aesthetic considerations) and the dynamics of mass consumption (in which experimentation and distinction are disfavored) leads over time to a product of blended expectations and desires, a product that thrills nor offends no one.

(I wonder if that's true? I wonder if there's any way to track advertising and product formula changes over time?)

True or not, I hope you're right, Hugh. I'll be happy to have more distinctive food, clothing, and entertainment choices available to me.

Posted by: Stumax at August 9, 2005 5:33 AM

Can we substitute 'change' for 'die'? Just because blogging isn't right for everything doesn't mean those things are doomed. Blogging provides a great way to share passion and information on lots of things - like custom suits - good for you, and good for all of us. But for the last 50 years I didn't hear the beer companies saying 'custom tailors are dead' just because they couldn't afford TV. You're the best Hugh, but I think this one's a bit over-stated.

Posted by: Craig Danuloff at August 9, 2005 1:44 PM

TV is not dying, it's just changing. Americans are not going to give up that big screen in their living room, but how they consume the content that is on it is going to change. How marketers evolve their use of this screen is the biggest challenge facing Madison Avenue.

Posted by: Mitchell Caplan at August 9, 2005 8:30 PM

What I think is happening is not so much that blogging is not good for big companies, and advertising too expensive for the little guy - it's more that the period in which it was necessary to get big to be successful is winding down, and blogging is a symptom of that, just as "open-source business" (see earlier post on gapingvoid) is.

NOT that big business is dead, per se ... but that small business now has the werewithal to take some of that business away successfully. One of the 'small' tools - blogging. This shift will probably mean the end of SOME big businesses (but not necessarily all), and the growing success of smaller, 'Long Tail' businesses.

I think we all hope so anyway - it's seems to be a popular theme around here!

Posted by: Ric at August 10, 2005 11:36 AM

Ummm - they COULD try to brew something that is actually palatable?

Posted by: Albert Ross at August 13, 2005 7:19 AM

It's probably true that Velveeta and Budweiser have to move such a great volume of product that blogs won't cut it. They just don't move the needle enough. On the other hand, amazing things are being done to promote movies online. Wedding Crashers and The Aristocrats found ways to cut through the clutter. While blogs might not be central to beer-selling they surely would help steer traffic to beer-moving web pyrotechnics.

Posted by: Mr. Snitch! at August 13, 2005 7:33 PM

1) With so many programming choices offered by cable/sattelite services, it's difficult for TV ads to reach a whole lot of people... compared to twenty years ago, when only a handful of channels were available.

2) Most people I know spend more of their TV time than ever on commercial-free channels (HBO, Sundance, IFC, Starz, etc.) I hardly ever see TV ads anymore. I have to actually make a point to hit some networks at primetime to see what's new.

3) Tivo.

4) TV commercials are too fast to influence anyone. You can't tell a story in 30 seconds. Sorry. You can't get me excited about a product that fast. Commercials can be fun and entertaining... but that's it. They're only a small portion of a much broader media strategy... and a hell of a lot less effective, in my opinion, than POP marketing.

Very cool blog, by the way. :)

Posted by: Olivier Blanchard at August 14, 2005 7:37 AM

If every employee of Bud was handed the keys to a blog, you'd see a number of pro-Bud blogs (which would feel like propaganda) and a number of anti-Bud blogs (which would be incendiary, car-crash fodder for the bored, and would get their authors fired, bringing Bud huge awareness via the follow-up discrimination lawsuits over free speech).

Blogs are personal by nature. A conglomerate like Bud cannot be personal by nature. It must be an authority to be trusted by its consumers, and consumers of a megabrand don't want to know how it works. In fact, I think it's almost antithetical. It's like trying to convince them that your 17 million employees operate a mom and pop store. Who are you trying to sell?

Big corporations won't be able to navigate new media as successfully as smaller businesses, but they'll find a way to appear successful, if only because a few of them will be able to squeeze enough of their propaganda into magazine and such that would otherwise not write two sentences about, say, a Bud blog.

Example: Bud is seriously considering running a reality show about the making of its next Super Bowl ad? So let me get this straight: an hour of prime-time programming will be dedicated to promoting THE MAKING OF AN AD for A MULTINATIONAL CORPORATION, and will be paid for BY OTHER ADS, all so that the viewing public can... what? Feel a personal connection to the success (or failure) of THE QUALITY OF THE FINISHED BUDWEISER SUPER BOWL AD?

Tell me if this makes anyone else throw up in their mouths just a little.

Posted by: Justin Kownacki at August 14, 2005 9:01 AM