The future of marketing: How to ride the wave

Posted on Written by Michael Sciulla
Michael Sciulla

Contrary to what you may have read about this being the new Golden Age of television, what with all the buzz generated by the likes of cable’s “Breaking Bad” and “Mad Men,” much of what we see on TV is forgettable entertainment. To paraphrase Marx, it’s the opiate of the masses.

But every once in a while television delivers as only television can deliver: a thought-provoking show about advertising and marketing that is concise, insightful and intelligent, with enough pictures to drive the message home just in case the words alone don’t do the subject justice.

Such was the case a few weeks ago when I happened to come across “The Naked Brand: The Future of Marketing,” a documentary on the Bloomberg television channel produced by Questus, which iMedia named its Agency of the Year in 2011. The entire show can be seen at www.bloomberg.com/video/the-naked-brand-the-future-of-marketing-wTo1reeNTNugBjR1Qj ~gnA.html.

Right off the bat you could tell that “The Naked Brand” was going to rock the boat. “Traditional advertising, I think, is finished,” proclaims Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia. “Advertising can’t bull anyone anymore. There’s too much information out there about brands, about experiences. You can’t pull the wool over someone’s eyes,” adds Porter Gale, the former CMO of Virgin America.

Although I don’t buy everything the producers of this documentary are selling, particularly in the latter half of the program, marine marketers, especially those who want to reach a younger audience, would do well to carve a few minutes out of their day to watch this video and consider its implications for their businesses.

The basic premise of the program is that the rise of social media is at the core of a revolution in which not advertisers, but ordinary consumers sharing their thoughts and opinions about products and services on everything from Amazon to Trip Adviser and Yelp, have become the arbiters of what to buy and what not to buy.

Imagine telling someone 10 years ago that an Internet communications platform limited to 140 characters called Twitter would be worth more than $31 billion on the first day it went public, more than the market capitalization of such S&P stalwarts as General Mills, General Dynamics and Kraft, and just below that of such venerable institutions as CBS Corp. and the Bank of New York Mellon.

“Advertising is going to become a word that we look at fondly and wonder, oh, my God, they used to do that a long time ago,” notes A.K. Pradeep, the CEO of Neurofocus.

Part of the reason traditional advertising is under scrutiny is the undeniable fact that consumers have lost their faith in corporate messages and don’t trust institutions — from the government to the media — anymore. Who can blame them when the 24/7 news cycle seems to be filled with scandal after scandal, leading consumers to wonder who or what they can trust and believe in.

“The Naked Brand” also shines a spotlight on the advertising industry’s spotty track record, showing how R.J. Reynolds built its brand by running ads for Camel cigarettes with a headline under a picture of a Marcus Welby-like doctor that read, “More Doctors Smoke Camels Than Any Other Cigarette” and more recently, when Nike came under attack for using impoverished overseas child labor to produce its expensive running shoes.

Another major reason advertising is losing its effectiveness is that consumers have become so inundated with advertising messages on a daily basis that they have become overwhelmed and just tune everything out.

“The Naked Brand” says consumers are exposed to more than 5,000 marketing messages a day — more than double the previous generation. Not only have they become inured to most traditional advertising, I suspect that many consumers also actively resent most of it. Just think of how you feel when an ad pops up on a website and obscures what you’re trying to read. I’ll never forget the first time I went into a men’s room and saw an ad above the urinal staring back at me. Is nothing sacred?

Some people I know have even taken to taping their favorite Sunday afternoon football game just so they can skip through all of the commercials at the flick of a button later in the day. That said, even though the famed Super Bowl ads draw millions, if not billions of eyeballs, how cost-effective are they as a marketing tool?

I suspect that most consumers are hard-pressed later in the week to recall who was the sponsor of a particular ad. Case in point: Who was the sponsor of the ad with the kid dressed up as Darth Vader during the 2012 Super Bowl? Answer: www.youtube.com/watch?v=hIMWeKO5U8o.

Producers Jeff Rosenblum and Sherng-Lee Huang say that although consumers have changed dramatically, advertising strategies for the most part are almost exactly the same as they were 50 years ago, with print ads becoming banner ads, junk mail becoming spam and 30-second TV ads becoming 30-second website pre-rolls.

B. Bonin Bough, former director of digital and social media for PepsiCo, explains that although ad dollars have shifted, most corporations are not thinking differently. They still use cute talking animals to sell their products. Sure, most people may know the Aflac duck represents an insurance company, but what kind of insurance the duck is selling is probably a mystery to most consumers.

The point of all this is that with more than $130 billion being spent on advertising in 2012, according to eMarketer, including $65 billion on television, $36 billion on print and $32 billion online, where and how you spend your scarce dollars is more important than ever.

The producers of “The Naked Brand” argue that you should invest it in improving the quality of your product or service. Armed with social media and in search of “the truth,” newly empowered consumers will find their answers on some of the 5.1 billion searches conducted on Google every day or the more than the 1,000 Facebook and Twitter posts per second or the more than 100 hours of video that are uploaded to YouTube every minute.

Unless you’re a very special company that has built a reservoir of credibility and trust with its consumer, the last place they’ll look for credible answers to their questions about your product or service is your advertising, and maybe even your website.

“Your advertising will go a lot further if you are selling something that is a lot better,” author and psychophysicist Howard Moskowitz says. The example of how Virgin America Airlines chooses to spend its marketing dollars is particularly compelling, especially in comparison with the video of what an unhappy consumer thinks about United Airlines.

“The definition of advertising has to evolve,” says Carter Brokaw, chief revenue officer at Slacker Radio. “Companies have to shift away from saying they are great to actually being great.” In other words, a company’s brand should be built from the bottom up through positive experiences in addition to from the top down through advertising.

The boating industry, which is built on delivering a unique experience all its own, is especially well positioned to take advantage of this shift in the marketplace. Our consumers don’t have to go boating. They choose to do so at great expense, both in terms of time and money. Providing them with a great product or service and then empowering them to promote the boating lifestyle should be the top priority of those who want to see recreational boating grow.

Full disclosure: I’ve been a Bloomberg Businessweek magazine subscriber since New York City’s former mayor acquired what was then a traditional business publication in 2009. At first I was put off by its newly cramped layout and word-heavy design, which, being a former magazine editor and publisher, assaulted my more artistic senses. But its content was so insightful and cutting-edge and so full of ideas worth exploring that I overlooked what my eyes told me are serious design flaws. I recommend it to those who want to get ahead of the next wave.

Michael Sciulla is president of Credibility & Company Communications, as well as vice president of the Marine Marketers of America and a member of the board of directors of both Boating Writers International and the Marine Marketers of America. During a 28-year career at BoatUS he built the association’s brand as membership grew from 30,000 to 650,000.

This article originally appeared in the December 2013 issue.

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