Brands sponsor rituals

One from the archives: Summer 2012

It's almost February and it is that time of the year again. The So.Me press is full of Facebook speculation and viral SuperBowl ads.

Meanwhile Business Insider was kind enough to graph the cost of broadcasting a 30 second spot during the SuperBowl.

Anyway I thought I would mash together the two themes into a Crop Circle report that demonstrates how big the challenge is for Facebook, and by extension the rest of the web, if it is going to become the future of brand advertising (i.e. Disrupt TV).


You see the biggest challenge facing web media, be it DIY (i.e. Social) or Professional, isn't traffic. Nor is the potential size of the audience. It's engagement.

This of course appears to be somewhat paradoxically given all the talk about how TV is cool and Social Media is red hot when it comes to audience engagement.

The the reality is the web simply isn't sticky enough to compete with the SuperBowl or even Prime Time TV when it comes to sustained periods of repeatable activities that morph fragmented audience engagement into lifetime habits.

As Marshall McLuhan observed 40 years ago when asked what TV does best Brand advertising on TV is about the corporate sponsorship of ritual events (e.g. The Olympics, The Football Codes, Tennis, Golf, Baseball, Cricket, etc). That's why live sport is central to the TV experience.

In reality rituals are not part of the online media experience. Online its's all about choice. It is the activity, the game, of discovery. Sharing is a secondary activity. Creation a tertiary activity. The primary activity is one of choice. The game of discovery. A game dominated by one player... Google.

The only habits one acquires from sustained exposure to Social Media and the web are those of endless choice and discovery. Hardly the habits attuned to shaping the lifetime consumption of a single brand... and, after all, isn't that what Branding is all about? Creating lifetime habits of consumption?... as opposed say, to a lifetime of endless, and ultimately overwhelming, free choice?

Which brings us back to the Disruptive Web TV debate and the simple question: If you can't find something worth watching on 50 or even a 100 channels of TV how is creating 100's of Millions of channels over the next 10 to 15 years going to improve things?

In the end the web isn't about engagement with the message. It is engagement with the endless of activity of choice. The only question Brands have to ask themselves is do they want to be the message on TV or the activity of choice on the Web. ... Not a choice, but the choice.

Part 2

On TV Brands Sponsor Programs

On the Web Brands Sponsor Pages

and yet what Marshall McLuhan taught us 40 years ago that

On TV Brands Sponsor Rituals

You see the disconnect?

What is the Web equivalent?

It can't simply be

On the Web Brands Sponsor Searches

On the Web Brands Sponsor Shares

On the Web Brands Sponsor Tweets

On the Web Brands Sponsor Games

Because the US ad spend data doesn't indicate this is true.

As we have seen before the Top 100 Brands allocated just 2.6% of their media budget's to online in 2011.

The reality is on the Web Brands Sponsor ? With the ? = Experiments

The problem being of course that after 15 years of experimentation the statement remains incomplete.

On TV Brands Sponsor Rituals but on the Web Brands Sponsor ? So let's explore what that ? could be. Simply because that ? is at the heart of solving the disrupt TV challenge.

It is the $175 Billion question

Get the answer to this one right and you'll be 2-3 times bigger than the rest of the online advertising combined. Even Google will look small by comparison.

The Google economy is based around the idea that advertisers sponsor your right to choose.

My actions online are all about choice. The reason online advertising CTR's are so poor is because the overwhelming majority of us choose not to click through any ads served up on the menu.

This also explains why Brand Advertising hasn't made the big jump online. Branding is about removing choice from the equation. Not encouraging it. It's about saying look at me. Not look at your options.

In the end the So.Me gurus and Silicon Valley VC who wax lyrical about Web TV in all its formats are wrong. The Disrupt TV challenge isn't about providing consumers with more channels or programming - and the same goes for Mobile TV.

It is much, much harder than that.

It is about finding the answer to this simple McLuhannesque observation

On TV Brands Sponsor Rituals but on the Web Brands Sponsor ?

Part 3

Following on from yesterday's post we discover that the simple statement On the Web Brands Sponsor ? where ? = Experimentation explains a lot about the state of the advertising industry in the digital era.

For example we know that the agencies that thrive in the digital space are more like "Innovation as a Service" providers than the traditional Creative Agency of the TV era of advertising.

It also helps to explain why there is little or no ROI on most online advertising campaign. It doesn't matter if its Social, Video or old style Banner Advertising, ROI is extremely difficult to achieve when advertising purely online.

It also raises the question are we measuring the wrong things? Perhaps function points and patent applications would be a better measure of online advertising success than CTR's, likes, tweets, page views, traffic and the time spent on a page?

It also points back to a much earlier discussion we had about how advertising could disrupt Silicon Valley by reinventing the innovation start-up model. Rather than advertising on Facebook perhaps Brands should focus their marketing dollars on becoming the next Facebook?

If we assume that after 15 years the answer to the question "On the web Brands Sponsor ?" to be the right answer then mapping out the future of the industry is very easy.

Brands will invest even more resources and dollars into large scale marketing experiments like Social Media, Mobile Apps and Video.

Advertising agencies will morph into "Innovation as a Service" providers who specialise in servicing the Brands' desire to fund experimentation online and the other digital platforms (e.g. Mobile).

The problem with this scenario of course is it assumes that CFO's will be happy to see their marketing departments morph into R&D centres and quasi Investment Bankers. Somehow I suspect this is unlikely. CFO's just aren't that interested in marketing departments funding large scale experimental R&D projects that reside outside the core business. CFO's will be asking why the marketing department is spending money on high risk:low return experiments when it should be focused on moving goods and services out the door.

Digital experiments take time to gestate and mature if they are to take advantage of the "Network Effect". The simple reality is 90 day sales reporting cycles are incompatible with this time scale.

This is why, after 15 years of experimentation, Brand advertising remains to this day a niche player within the digital landscape.

Part 4

Social media may like to believe they are in the business of Branding the Ritual but in reality it remains peripheral to the main game. Tribal Rituals are by nature very public affairs. They are broadcast to the largest possible audience.

The trend towards personalising the broadcasting experience via mobile devices (see ESPN Deems Mobile First Screen) is testament to the increasing level of audience engagement with these rituals.

In contrast the So.Me is a private nesting place from which you nanocasting sporadic public declarations.

If the So.Me has played a role in the Branding of the rituals then it has been in the sponsorship of the actors (i.e. The Priests/Priestesses, Kings/Queens/Princes/Princesses and Heroes/Heroines) and/or the relics and offerings. This was highlighted over the weekend by The Next Web report on how Brands pay Celebrities for Tweets.

To understand the potential of So.Me in this context we need to ask ourselves to what extent are rituals conversations? and, therefore what role can the So.Me play within the ritual? Or, are we merely talking about conversations about rituals?

We also need to ask ourselves is the subset of the total audience engaged with Social Media during the ritual utilising Social Media as an expression of engagement with the ritual? Or, are they merely choosing to watch others watching the ritual as a distraction from being engaged with the ritual?

What is interesting about the Coca Cola SuperBowl experiment with the real time Polar Bears is the Brand has chosen not to sponsor the ritual but the rather to sponsor the ritual of watching and celebrating the televised ritual.

Of all the experiments to date, including the Pepsi Refresh from the past two years, this experiment probably best highlights the true nature and ultimately the unrealised value of social media to the Brands.

All that is left is to debate if this Brands Sponsoring the Ritual of Celebrating Brands Sponsoring Rituals is a Fauxionary construct or if it is a vibrant new layer of mass media that will allow advertisers and Brands to answer the question once and for all of what do Brands sponsor on the web.

On the Web Brands Sponsor the Ritual of Celebrating the Ritual

Is it the answer to the $175 Billion question? I guess we'll all have to think about that one for a while. But I suspect the answer, at least at this stage, is no.

Till next time...

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