Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Some Concrete Thoughts on Interactive Advertising.

The entire world of marketing, on both the agency and the client sides, seems to have forgotten something.  Something fundamental. Something fundamental about speaking to people. Especially speaking to people on a regular basis.

The best writing or best communications are interactive. 

I don't mean they're online ads or digital or they force you to click them.

I mean that they take into consideration, learn from and react to input of viewers.

I'd bet dollars to donuts that when the blind poet Homer sang the Iliad or the Odyssey to people gathered in the agora or around a campfire, he changed the roles of heroes and villains depending where he was performing. If you heard Homer in Thrace he might be singing a different tune than Homer in Ithaka.

Dickens--the Harry Styles of his day--did roughly the same thing. Dickens' novels were written as "monthly part issues." In other words, a magazine like "Beggar's World," would contract for 20 installments from Dickens. And each month his readers would get another three or seven or five chapters of whatever he was writing.

When Dickens was serializing what became "David Copperfield," a minor character called Uriah Heap caught on with his readers. By the next part issue, Heap had a larger role. That's interactive. People respond so the work responds.

This sort of thing happens all the time in sports. The $17-million-a-year player starts stinking up the court and the coach puts in someone who had been sitting on the end of the pine. It wasn't the plan. But as the Yiddish say, "Mann tracht, un gott lacht." Man plans, god laughs.

If you've ever seen a good standup comedian perform you can feel how they interact with the energy of the audience. They might change their set according to the composition of that evening's crowd. I'd go so far as to say, for the best comedians the word "set" is anomalous. They probably have a framework along with some flexibility.

Pre-Covid I went to a talk at The New York Times building. It was about the digital future of the newspaper. I went for vocational reasons. In my judgment, the Times has done a better job than any ad agency in the world figuring out how to produce meaningful, sharable and sticky work in the internet era.

One of the things they spoke about is that if an op-ed article isn't getting clicks, a writer will change its headline to try to goose its popularity. 

I wondered, why can't we in advertising do that?

I watch thirty minutes of TV five days a week. And I see the same dumb commercials over and again for a long period of time. Even if I started out liking the spot and the brand, after forced exposure of ten to twelve times, I'd stab the CMO to death with a knitting needle if I saw him. 

On every shoot I've ever been on, we shot ten or fourteen alternate endings. The one you edit into the "final" wasn't the only funny one. Why not rotate a set of four or five spots and un-boring-i-fy your GRPs by keeping things fresh. The benefit of freshness must be greater than the additional cost of talent, routing, and finishing.

Finally, turning around to me.

As all things eventually should.

I run about four ads a week. And thanks to the technology at LinkedIn and Twitter, I know how my ads are doing. 

Of course, this isn't scientific. I know I have no control in place. And I don't have a squadron of data specialists and anayticizers to tell me that my green ads perform better than my pink ads and when I post before eight in the morning I get more clicks than when I post after ten.

Some days I see this:

On better days, I see this:

Some days I'll even see something like this:

Some days, more. The point in all this is simple. (Beyond the thrill of just getting clicks.) Somehow agencies and marketers have to figure out a way to keep doing things until those things "catch on." I'm not stupid enough to assert that you can regularly produce work that people love and that makes them smile. 

But if you're not too precious about it, if you find a way to un-bureaucraticize your agency or your marketing organization, you can keep making work until you find some things that are working. 

And if something isn't working, you can replace it with something that might work better. I had a boss once who was a recovering alcoholic. In his office he had a sign: "I try all things, I improve what I can." That ain't a bad philosophy here.

Of course, none of this is science. But if you ever watched someone die from a prolonged illness, you'd realize that not even science is a science.

Most things are not subject to the "one true way." They're the result of trial and error. Trial and error is basically how the world works. Ask Charles Darwin if you don't believe me.

But as an industry, we’d rather than beat viewers into submission. We should try more love and laughter.

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