November 12, 2011
Advertising As A Destination Model: A Contrarian View
November 12, 2011
I caught up again recently with digital pioneer and media contrarian Jeff Einstein of the Brothers Einstein, and we discussed what he describes as the existential crisis in the commercial media channels today.
Pete: What’s the problem, Jeff?
Jeff: The real problem in the media ecology right now is the absolute dearth of effective, scalable reach for big brand advertisers. All branding is a function of reach, first and foremost, and brands simply can’t grow unless and until they can find and secure cost-efficient ways to scale effective reach. In fact, scalable brand reach is the only nondiscretionary line item in any big brand media spend, and that’s why–after all this time–digital branding revenues are still just a small fraction of their network TV counterparts, despite the rapid growth of the digital channels and the equally rapid erosion of effective network TV reach in recent years. Brand advertising nowadays is suddenly like the proverbial tree in the forest that falls when no one is around to hear it. Despite the increase in sheer tonnage, the media channels are shedding effective, scalable brand reach.
Pete: How can there be no effective, scalable reach when there’s so much inventory, especially online?
Jeff: For the same reason that knowledge and wisdom are subtractive, not additive. Because the entire advertising industry–especially online–caters almost exclusively to the supply-side creation and distribution of the one thing no one in an on-demand media universe demands and the one thing everyone in an on-demand media universe is equipped to avoid: the ads themselves. It’s utterly nonsensical and completely delusional to think for a moment that we can generate effective, scalable brand reach with the one thing no one wants and everyone is equipped to avoid–regardless of the medium.
Pete: But what can advertisers do to compensate for the loss of effective, scalable reach on TV if no one wants the ads online either?
Jeff: We need to begin by asking the right question, one that’s truly mindful of the fact that all commercial media are now and always have been on-demand. And the right question in an on-demand media universe isn’t, “How do we target the right audience?” The right question is, “How do we get the right audience to target us?”
Pete: Implicit in that question is an assertion that the right audience somehow qualifies itself.
Jeff: Exactly, Pete. Self qualification is now and always has been the defining characteristic of all on-demand media. In fact, we declare our demographic profiles every time we decide which programs to watch on TV, what to listen to on radio, which magazines to read, or which websites or blogs to visit online. In an on-demand media universe the right audience always qualifies and declares itself simply by showing up. But in advertising, getting the right audience to show up is the easy part.
What’s the hard part?
Jeff: The hard part is delivering the brand message once they get there because no one ever goes anywhere for the ads, and the ads can no longer hope to penetrate the massive inertia generated by their own incessant clutter, especially online. The patent inability to bust through the clutter of our own commercial media environments adds insult to injury for advertisers because it forces them to pay the equivalent of a progressive environmental tax, what I call it the Inertia Tax, the growing percentage of each media dollar dedicated to overcoming the inertia generated by the commercial media environments themselves. The Inertia Tax online is especially onerous and masks the much simpler truism that the ads aren’t there to support the content in the first place. Quite the contrary: the content is there to support the ads.
Pete: Some would argue that content is king.
Jeff: Content may be king, Pete, but content is always incidental to the real function of all commercial media: deliver the ads. This fundamental truism of commercial media gets lost in the clutter each and every time we sit down to calculate our Inertia Tax. Even kings need their financial barons.
Pete: So what can advertisers do?
Jeff: Rather than pay to immerse the ad in the content, advertisers need to remove the ads from the intermediary clutter entirely and immerse the content in the ad instead on a branded destination page. Advertisers need to augment or replace the collapsing advertising-as-intermediary model with a more robust and effective advertising-as-destination model.
Pete: Can you give me an example?
Jeff: Sure. The advertising-as-destination model dominated the golden years of radio and TV, when advertisers owned the programs they sponsored, and thus owned the entire branding experience, soup to nuts. The programs were indistinguishable from the ads because everyone knew full well that the programs were only there to deliver the ads. The programs and the brands who owned them shared the same marquees and the same destinations.
Pete: That was a long time ago, and most advertisers don’t own their own content anymore.
Jeff: That’s true. Advertisers have devolved over the years from content owners into media renters. But while many advertisers may not own their own content anymore, they can certainly license what they need and own the virtual theater and stage. They can own the online destination. The secret to delivering an impactful brand impression is purely subtractive, and the job of the brand marketer is to subtract all competing distractions, to distill the branding environment until only the essence of the pure content and brand message remain. It was true eighty years ago for the radio pioneers, true in the 1950s for the TV pioneers, and even truer today when the Inertia Tax consumes so much more of each and every media dollar invested.
Pete: Is anyone building those destination environments online today?
Jeff: There’s an online syndication shop in New York City called Studio One Networks. They’ve been quietly and successfully building single-sponsor destinations for big corporate clients online since 1998. Ironically, one of their biggest clients is P&G, the sponsor for some of the earliest radio and television soap operas. Anyone interested in building quality environments for their brands should pick up the phone and talk to Andrew Susman.
Pete: I can understand how the advertising-as-destination model might deliver a much more effective branding environment, but how does it deliver scalable reach?
Jeff: It doesn’t. Just shifting from the advertising-as-intermediary model to the advertising-as-destination model can’t deliver scalable reach. In order to generate scalable reach, you need to replace the intermediary ads that no one wants with something that everyone wants. The current advertising-as-intermediary model is like fishing with bait that’s been clinically proven to repel fish. Simply stated, advertisers need better bait.
Pete: Such as?
Jeff: Short-format video clips. Just as we can state unequivocally that no one wants more ads, we can also state unequivocally that everyonewants more short-format video–the only reason any of us pay through the nose for high-speed Internet access to begin with. The fact that the folks who don’t want more ads are the same exact folks who want more short-format video merely confirms the need and insatiable appetite for better bait. If you want to attract specific audience demos in real scale, just replace the ads with demographically appropriate video snack thumbnails. Once you do, self-qualified audiences will flock to your exclusively branded destination pages in huge numbers. It’s the only way for big brand advertisers to compensate online for the erosion of big brand reach on television, and the only way to vastly reduce or eliminate the Inertia Tax that drives up costs and drives down performance for everyone. Remember the sage lyrics of Fishin’ Blues: “Any fish bites if ya got good bait, here’s a little somethin’ I would like to relate…”
Pete: Is anyone fishing with better bait now?
Jeff: There’s a small company just southwest of Chicago that owns and operates a contrarian network called the Vidsense Video Snack Network. Unlike all the online ad networks, however, Vidsense doesn’t distribute any ads. Instead, it delivers what it calls Video Snack Bars across a network of more than 25,000 safe-for-work websites. Each Video Snack Bar carries up to eight unbranded video thumbnails, selected for their proven ability to attract and drive specific audience demos directly to single-sponsor destination pages. Each click on a Video Snack Bar thumbnail resolves on a single-sponsor destination page where the requested video clip plays while immersed in and surrounded by the brand message. As far as I know, Vidsense is the only pure brand reach network on the Internet, and the only one that can deliver the scalable brand reach numbers of TV–upwards of 300 million self-qualified visitors per month–with the immersive interactive performance of digital.
Pete: Why aren’t there more companies like Studio One Networks and Vidsense?
Jeff: Because everyone uses the same supply side digital tools, because no one driving the digital bus is old enough to remember Sal Mineo, and because they don’t teach common sense in business school.
Pete: Thanks, Jeff. Always interesting.
Jeff: Thank you, Pete.