February 19, 2002

Is Advertising Dead? Adweek's Jack Feuer, Gonzo and Cluetrain
My December 3rd issue of Adweek has been sitting on top of my dresser for the past couple months folded (now permanently) to an op-ed that brings up a feeling I get reading Cluetrain and Gonzo.

The feeling is ... do exceptional advertising professionals already use the same concepts written about in Cluetrain and Gonzo? Are we just frustrated at the advertising junk which increasingly pervades our lives while not recognizing true advertising ingenuity and greatness? Because I think ingenuity and greatness in advertising is out there.

Within Reach: Looking for people, not their demographics or lifestyles. The author is Jack Feuer. (Sorry no link, Adweek doesn't keep an archive online). This is how the story goes:

Jack's revelation occured while sitting behind a Land Rover with tinted windows. The truck had a sticker most have seen: That snarling kid taking a whiz. The Land Rover and pisser sticker juxtaposed, Jack reflected. Why doesn't a lot of advertising work?

Jack writes:

Advertisers know all about fragmented media. They don't know enough about fragmented consumers .... [Advertisers] change us the same way they have changed the media.

For sure, they recognize that we have endless choices. That we are in control of the ever-multiplying array of media we are exposed to every day. But what's needed is real insight into how that choice and control change us. [personally, for that insight I recommend reading Cluetrain and Gonzo Marketing].

They change us the same way the have changed the media. We are demassified.

This, of course, is why marketing to demographics doesn't work as efficiently anymore. But the obvious response to that--crafting media plans and creative based on lifestyles--is equally futile. Because each of us is now a market of one."

Jack gives us an example of himself. Jack's demographic makes him out to be the bar hopping type. But Jack's really a huge Buffy fan...

If you knew me as a demassified individual, as a market of one, you'd forget my penchant for dimly lit bars and bad scotch. You'd ignore the gray in my hair and the extra pounds. You'd advertise on a TV show only 12-34s are supposed to like.

All the talk about relationship marketing and one-to-one communication is just vapor, because those concepts are mostly honored in the breach.

With all the vaunted technology that advertising brings to bear, we still haven't really figured out how to reach people as individuals. How to reach them through their minds instead of their demographics or their lifestyles. Through what they care about instead of what they're supposed to care about.

Optimizers won't do it. Focus groups are mostly just exercises in creative collective lying.

And this is where I think Jack takes an interesting turn. Instead of saying, "go out and buy Gonzo Marketing to learn how to converse within the micromarketplace," he says "Perhaps media people ought to act a little more like creatives. Get out on the street. Talk to people. Pay more attention to the 'outlyers' on both ends of the tabulation charts. Barrow some account planning tricks."

Or transform "advertisers" to the real people in the corporation. Let them talk to the customers. Underwrite sites of common interest. --- alright, Jack didn't write this last part.

One of the things that kept tugging at my conscience while reading Gonzo Marketing were the role of Account Planners and exceptional creatives in creating effective advertising in the age of the web. They don't talk in "corporate-speak." For example, Nick Usborne isn't breaking any companies, he's writing great copy for the web. Just like great copywriters have written great copy for great ads for over a century. I don't think every (qualified) individual in an entire corporation has to start communicating with the outside world for corporate communication (FKA advertising) on the web to be effective, as Gonzo suggests.

Good advertisers need to understand how the web works. Know how it empowers customers. How customers are people. Not demographics. Not targets. Not to be marketed to.

Gonzo teaches us many things. Primarily, broadcast doesn't work on the web. Also, people are talking in micromarkets on the web. They are smarter and more cynical about advertising. But I think Gonzo is a tactic to be used. It's not the system's new replacement.

No comments: