Hey Advertisers, What’s Your Post 30-Second Spot Plan?


If this is the future, you'd better have a plan that includes something more than 30-second spots.

If this is the future, you’d better have a plan that includes something more than 30-second spots.

The 30-second commercial is not dead, despite what Trevor Beattie thinks. But, here’s something to consider, I could easily consume 4+ hours of content, anytime and just about anywhere, night after night, and not see one 30-second spot. Game of Thrones on Demand via HBO or HBO Go, followed by two episodes of binge watching some old series on Netflix, then I’ll play an hour of Call of Duty on the Xbox 360, followed by catching an out of market West Coast Major League Baseball game online.  That’s not trying to get by on scraps, that’s all top tier entertainment.

Read the Netflix Long Term View  and you’ll get a glimpse into how that company sees the future. It’s a fascinating piece, and shows how they, along with HBO and others, are likely to be capturing the lion’s share of attention, certainly from the upscale market. So, if you are a brand like Land Rover or Virgin Atlantic or Waldorf or Revlon or Dell or Crystal Cruises what do you do? We’re not talking about simple DVR commercial skipping, we’re talking about a future where some of the best, most watched and talked about content simply doesn’t have ads at all.

Last week I went to the Machinima Digital Upfront. If you don’t know Machinima that’s ok, unless you are trying to reach the global, male 18-34 demo, then it is a problem. Machinima racks up more than 2 billion views per month across it’s network (internationally, online and mobile devices). They do this with original programming that is tailor made for its audience. At the event they announced new partnerships that will get them into the massive EDM (electronic dance music) market, as well as a partnership with the director Ridley Scott.

On another front there is a discussion over who is going to own the App Battle that is going to be taking place on your phone, tablet, Smart TV / Internet TV / Connected TV and video game console. You can argue who the winner is going to be – Alan Wolk of KIT Digital thinks it will be the MVPDs who have the advantage. I think brands have agreat opportunity, but the truth is, arguing whether we’ll be using a Comcast app or a Google app or a Nike app isn’t the point, the point is we’ll be launching video content from all sorts of providers and producers and that won’t feature a traditional 30-second spot.

So, what’s your post 30-second spot plan? Product integration directly into the content? In-app sponsorship? Create your own app that enhances the viewing experience around content relevant to your brand? Create your own content? Create your own content channel that hosts video from a wide range of producers that aligns with your brand?

Those all sound like pretty compelling options, but “option” may be a misnomer. I think your “TV strategy” needs to be a lot more diverse than simply deciding between broadcast and/or cable. It’s going to involve a sophisticated plan based on your audience and their viewing behaviors. It will require new social analytics like the ones developed by Bluefins Labs, which was recently bought by Twitter. And it’s going to demand a partner who can help you manage a complex web of partnerships and collaborations with content producers, distributors and tech vendors you may not have even heard of five years ago… because they didn’t exist.

Yes, for the foreseeable future the 30-second spot still has a place front and center in your plans. But right now the smartest brands are preparing for a future where YouTube, HBO and Netflix are the equivalent of ABC, CBS and NBC 40 years ago.

SXSW Day 1 – On game mechanics and agile agencies

Day 1 at SXW in the books.  Very easy to get overwhelmed by this thing. An absolute crush of people and so much content to try to absorb. I’m just going to focus on a couple of key themes that popped up during panels I attended and in conversation with people I caught up with.

Buster Benson

1. Cooperative Gaming

I’ve been really getting in to game mechanics recently and how they can be used to shift behaviour. The first session I attended focused on cooperative play which I found quite interesting. The speakers, Thor Muller and Buster Benson talked about how the best games strike a balance between competition and cooperation. I think Zynga, the makers of Farmville and Cityville among others, do a great job of this. You’re always being pushed to get to new levels (and make a place better than your friends’ place), but you often need the assistance of others to advance. Benson is the brains behind Health Month, which looks really intriguing. He’s added several layers of game mechanics to help you (and your friends) maintain a healthy lifestyle.  Benson had a really good insight on mechanics when he said,  “don’t create a mechanic for specific behaviour, but rather create to drive participation.”  That’s the big barrier. Once they are participating the rest gets much easier. Other great tips included, ‘create mechanics for adding new players’ and ‘add mechanics for assisting other players.’  All this puts the focus on creating a more cooperative environment and here’s why this can be so important: If it’s purely a competitive environment and one player takes a massive lead, participation from other players will drop off.


Allison Mooney

2. Agency Business Models

I’ve written about agency business models frequently in the past, and it’s a topic that continues to intrigue me. Google’s Allison Mooney moderated a panel of extremely heavy hitters (Ben Malbon, Matt Galligan, Rick Webb & Rob Rasmussen). The conversation focused on the need for agencies to move quickly, to produce something right now rather than to continue to shape and refine ideas. But there are many challenges both internally and externally. Breaking down barriers between creatives, planners and developers was cited as a need as well as having a ‘translator’ to facilitate the internal communications but also as a go-between for the agency and the client. Several panelists talked about the need to not fall in love with ideas, and in fact to be able to kill ideas quickly. Ideas need to be strong enough to hold up. It should be able to live on (a platform) rather than simply for a moment in time (campaign).


Ultimately, what I keep hearing – in panels, conversations, blog posts – comes down to a simple notion. The hierarchies that were built up over the 20th century don’t apply anymore. Job titles and functions have little meaning. Bureaucratic process holds less and less value.  Collaborators and co-creators are more important than maintaining rigid control. Everything must be fluid now. It must be built to be fluid. Create, revise, build, kill, create, revise, build, kill. It never stops.  The best brands (and agencies) understand that.  It’s something people in the PR industry need to think about. How can we create platforms that live well beyond mere campaigns.

The IdeaLists: Redefining The Relationship Between Creatives, Brands and Agencies

"We make matches; we don't source crowds."

In the first part of my Crowdsourcing One Year Later series, Aaron Bateman, author of the Agency Future site, mentioned The IdeaLists, an organization I wasn’t familiar with. I did a little digging and thought it would be worthwhile and relevant to bring them into this discussion on how the relationship between brands, agencies and members of the creative community continues to evolve. Adam Glickman, Founder at The IdeaLists, graciously fielded some questions on what is The IdeaLists and how does it work:

Rick Liebling: Tell me about the premise behind IdeaLists? How did you start?

Adam Glickman: The idea was to take a look at the current processes in marketing and media and see where technology applied in the right places might be able to reduce some of the unnecessary layers and silos. If we are living in a quickly-changing, quickly-leveling world thanks to the sharing of information, can not/should not some of these new communications be applied to our industry?

Between 2006 and 2009 I had been tasked by two different agencies (W+K and BBH) to explore new agency models. After being within the walls of those organizations (which hold some of advertisings smartest and most adventurous people) I decided if an experiment like The IdeaLists was going to work, it needed to start from the outside and work its way in. So I went off to do it solo. I hired an Estonian designer, Indian developers and built a barebones site prototype. I quietly began inviting people in over Christmas 2009. Before long matches started getting made and money started changing hands. The model was working. So I started slowly growing it from there. Today Im proud to say we have 1600 qualified engaged members and over 10 million dollars in opportunities have flown through the site in the first year. Companies using the site include everything from non-profits to indie record labels to ad agencies to global brands. And every week we see where things can be tweaked to make the model stronger. Its still an ongoing experiment.

RL: How is it different from Guided Collective or Victors & Spoils?

AG: We arent an agency;  we dont seek retainers. We simply act as matchmaker for creatives and clients. And we do this efficiently by applying a number of filters to the information that flows through the network.

So picture us more as agent than agency. The IdeaLists is an ecosystem full of eclectic talent, ideas and opportunities. And when someone presents a specific problem into the mix, its our job to ensure the network matches them with the best solution.

RL: How does IdeaLists benefit brands?

AG: The site isn’t set up to differentiate between client buckets and creative buckets. As a one size-fits-all shop, projects of wildly varying budgets are flowing through the site regularly. So one day an agency that considers themselves a client might find themselves the creative the next day.

The most important way we benefit members is by introducing them to fresh  talent and ideas that exist outside their current professional network. Too often projects are awarded on access as opposed to merit. Our filters open the playing field without creating a mob.

RL: What do you see as the future for creatives and brands working together?

AG: Marketing is increasingly moving from broad and shallow messages that can appeal to a single large audience to multiple, deep and narrow executions that can appeal to targeted audiences simultaneously. Increasingly, agencies are hearing from their clients less of “heres ten million dollars for a campaign” and more of “heres ten million dollars for 100 mini-campaigns”. Agencies arent tooled for this. So The IdeaLists, by acting simply as matchmaker to deliver the best team for a specific execution, can facilitate this new market need.

Here’s an example of an IdeaLists project,  a recent collaboration with Levis.  They commissioned this film, utilizing filters in place so only a select few presented treatments and then they project managed and delivered the final film.


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The Consumer Generated Ad Model Backlash is Approaching

I’ve written a bit about Consumer Generated Ads (CGA) in the past, and what is has to offer as an agency model. In general, I’m not sure that CGA has the potential to be more than a novelty, and at that a novelty that is already starting to wear thin. Check out the opening line from this piece in Ad Age earlier this week:

Dear consumer,

Your 15 minutes are over. You suck.

Ok, a little over the top for dramatic purposes, but here comes the CGA backlash. The article goes on to quote various people within the industry who rightly note that the novelty of CGA has now worn off, and in the cold light of day most of the creative being generated is fairly poor. From the article:

“You’re getting these very poor quality spots, and it’s not even done in seriousness anymore. It’s almost like a joke,” said San Diego-based brand strategist Denise Lee Yohn. “It’s almost like a parody, and it’s being treated like a game. That’s definitely affecting the quality of what we’re seeing.”

She remains adamant that “there’s not a lot for a company to gain by doing this. There’s not a novelty anymore, there’s nothing to gain, and it lacks the authenticity. It’s going to happen with a brand real soon where there will be a backlash against this.”

I agree. Or rather agreed. Back in December I wrote:

At some point, probably next summer, you’ll see a crowdsourcing backlash as some unwitting brand will declare some plagiarized effort a ‘winner’ of some contest or perhaps a few too many crowdsourced programs will fail to inspire a decent response and marketers will sour.

I’d be hard pressed to think of another profession where, “Let’s let the consumer/customer/citizen/audience do the work” would be considered a reasonable idea. No one ever suggests Consumer Generated Heart Surgery, or User Generated aircraft piloting, why would advertising, which takes a great deal of skill to do effectively be immune to this absurdity?

For more on crowdsourcing, read my eBook, Everyone Is Illuminated. Tons of great thinking from a lot of really smart people.

Re-imagining the agency proposition

future cities

Will agencies of today be there?

A recurring theme for the last year or so has been the thoughtful essay – or call to arms – to rethink the role, make-up and/or organization of the agency. New technologies, the global economic climate and the evolution of an empowered consumer have all led to the spilling of much digital ink by a host of extremely smart people.  I’ve read a lot of really well written pieces along these lines recently.  Justin McMurray from Made by Many had a great piece that built upon that agencies “Agile” claims. The main thrust is a call to action that emphasizes testing, simplicity and responding to change over deep research, insights and long decks. Justin argues that:

Deep research and immersion in complex problems is all good and well. However this approach is very much based on analytical thinking styles that tend to breed very deductive and often long-winded conclusions. Not only does this take a great deal of time, the rigidness and codification of the ‘ultimate solution’ presents an absolute with little room for argument. But too often this is simply an academic exercise in imagination, but perhaps 37 Signal’s advice to ”stop imagining what may work. Find out for real” (p.94) is a smarter alternative. More broadly, if you’re in the business of creative and innovative thinking, I think it’s time to move away from formulaic deductions and towards a more abductive, design thinking approach.

I interpret his post, which is well worth your time to read, that while many of the traditional foundations aren’t wrong, they simply don’t carry the same weight under the current conditions. Those conditions being a world of complexity and constant change. ‘Tis better to launch and adjust on the fly then sit and wait for perfection. It’s a fair point and one worth serious consideration.

So, if a new, more agile approach is needed, it’s fair to assume that you are going to need a new kind of team. Enter Edward Boches, Chief Creative Officer and Chief Social Media Officer of Mullen. He recently wrote about the new creative team and getting it to work (hint, it’s a lot more than just a copywriter and an art director). Boches argues for a broader, more collaborative environment that fosters an interdisciplinary team rather than a multidisciplinary team, which I think is a subtle but important difference. Not only do you need people with a variety of skill sets and knowledge, but you need them to truly work together, not just parallel to each other.

Both McMurray and Boches speak convincingly for the need for change, and they aren’t alone. The Dachis Group has made the need for a change to business structure a core tenet of their approach. Their Social Business Design approach looks at how technology can be harnessed not just for marketing purposes, but across various departments within a corporation.

Despite these calls for changes, some still seem unable to shake themselves from the entrenched status quo. As a result, Mark Fairbanks recently did some grief counseling for those yet to accept the inevitable as a result of Sean Duffy’s piece: Advertising Agencies: Kiss Your Creative Teams Goodbye. Duffy, like the others, understands, or at least recognizes, the changes that have occurred and the necessity for a new approach:

“The reason the creative team no longer works is because the right combination of words and images alone will no longer yield bountiful sales for the client. This is not to say good copy and art direction are unimportant. They have never been more important. Today it takes more than that, a lot more. Ad agencies now have different expectations placed on them. Our campaign solutions must do more than combine words and images to inform, inspire, and motivate. They must deliver business value in new ways that maximize the potential of digital media as well as traditional media.”

By now even our clients have seen the shifting sands and recognized that they need to change too. Steve Noble, a senior analyst at Forrester, recently wrote a piece for Ad Age entitled, How to Create an Adaptive Global Marketing Organization (buy the full report here). He also lays out a roadmap, this one for CMOs, for those grappling with the changes that we are all trying to deal with.

Ultimately a lot of this is a matter of process. Team structure, organization, procedure… these all are relevant and worthy of discussion, but ultimately they feel more like slight modifications rather than evolutionary leaps. If we are truly standing at a crossroads in the history of the marketing discipline, perhaps what is needed is a large paradigm shift rather than further adherence to the Red Queen’s hypotheses.

Ultimately a lot of what I read on this subject seems like calls for changes in tactics, or maybe in strategies, but nothing I would call radically different.  While a lot of people are proclaiming the death of the agency, their suggestions for the future seem somewhat modest. 

If you’re a zebra and all the leaves have been eaten from the low-hanging branches, developing a slightly longer tongue isn’t going to help much. You need to become a giraffe.

It’s that sort of evolutionary jump, that sort of paradigm shift in thinking, that I’d like to see. So, what am I proposing?

That agencies, far from being in trouble, need to seize the opportunity that they are uniquely positioned to grab as cultural agenda-setters, influencers and creators. I think this is a massive time for traditional agencies to not morph into something ‘smaller and more agile,’ but rather something more massive and all-encompassing.

So, rather than sit on the sidelines, I’m going to jump in headfirst with both feet and present a truly radical, immodest proposal. Please indulge me as a weave a little tale…

Continue reading

Advertising Industry: From Producing Ads to Producing Products

We're starting to see an army of new agency models advance.

As I continue to explore the subject of crowdsourcing (and there will be more to come) there are other signs that the ad industry business model is collapsing from within. The surest indicator is that agencies are willing to try things that ten years ago would have been unheard of. Now, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The ad agency model was probably ready for a rethink. This was necessitated by the changes in technologies as well as shifts in society (the emergent ‘creative class’) and disruptive economic factors.

Ad Age has a good piece on how agencies of all kinds are becoming producers of something more than ads and marketing communications. 

What’s interesting is not just the variety of agencies, but the variety of products they are developing. Here are some highlights:

Product: Kidos
What: Kidos is a free software program that turns a parent’s computer into a kid-friendly device for children’s e-mail, photos, music, games and more. Zag — BBH’s IP arm that is staffed with former marketers from Unilever and Procter & Gamble — launched Kidos in beta last month and will officially debut the product in the second half of 2010. The interface includes a customizable kids’ operating system and parent-controlled iTunes-like store that has appropriate content from around the world in over 25 languages.

Product: BrandFlux
What: BrandFlux is a brand-management platform that culls data from real-time sites such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube as well as legacy data from Forrester Research and other reports. A team of strategists curates the data and are on call for around-the-clock questions. The business model is monthly subscription per user.

Product: Food Content Alerts
What: Food Content Alerts is a free online and mobile service that helps consumers with food allergies and diseases manage what they eat. The agency estimates 70 million people in North America suffer from some type of allergy or food-related problem, and this platform allows personalized data management and offers a user community to share recipes and tips. The application is free, and the company seeks brands to integrate into the actual service, as opposed to display advertising.

From the article:

While some of these projects do exist for novelty, many more of them in the digital space exist for utility. We believe the agency community will soon be considered a hub of digital-content creation, and it’s only a matter of time before several shops are responsible for churning out mass-consumer hits.

The creative and economic factors at work here say to me that this is something we’re going to see a lot more of. I think within five years the vast majority of agencies will be unrecognizable to what they are today.

Watch this space (and be sure to check out Agency Future) for more on the evolution of the agency.