Why Highway Billboards Beat Web Banners for Brands

A client just asked me to scrap his banner ad campaign and move the money to highway billboards, and I didn’t try to stop him.

The campaign seeks to improve people’s perceptions of his brand, and even the lowly highway billboard beats banners for that. Internet ad extremists will grouse this is nothing more than “spray-and-pray” without the deep pools of digital data that grease Web advertising. Thousands and thousands of people will drive by these billboards as total strangers to us. All we know about them is where they were and what direction they were headed when they passed the billboard. And, we hope, that one person in the car was at least 16.

We don’t know their interests or shopping behavior. No idea what they searched for lately, or what their likelihood is to buy our clients’ products. We’d have known all these things and more if we’d run the ads online. And we’d have reached tons more people for less money.

The “reach” of banner ads is more like “misses.” All that data and targeting. All that precision and insight. It’s like having a laser-guided, smart bomb system that drops an evaporating mist. The target remains untouched and oblivious.

That’s why we’re on billboards this fall, not leaderboards. Even in seven words or less, billboards offer our client a reasonable canvas on which to make someone know and/or feel something. And, as importantly, billboards give us a fighting chance of actually being seen, and absorbed, by our audience.

OK, yes, I know, banners ads DO occasionally connect with people. Accidents and professional curiosity aside, I’ve personally clicked on two or three of them in my lifetime. And I could probably recall one I’ve seen lately. Well, maybe not. But we know that about four people in ten thousand do, on average, click on banner ads.

So, if you can get more out of those four people than what you paid to reach (using the term loosely, of course) ten thousand others, banners are great. We buy them for just such occasions.

But for a brand-building campaign, an effort that trades in emotion and desire – and requires “touch” not “reach” – banner ads miss the mark. Unless publishers and sites start offering display units that reliably connect with audiences, I suspect more and more brand money will hit the road.

(As published by Digiday 10/29/13: “Why Highway Billboards Beat Web Banners for Brands”)

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In the Digital Age, Good ‘Ole TV Looks Great


With the TV upfront ad buying season upon us, you might dismiss the spectacle as little more than a desperate diversion from another traditional medium fighting the digital tide.

That would be a mistake.

Imagine you’re one of those odd marketing ducks still trying to make people feel something different about your product.  Not click.  Not scroll-over.  Not “Like!” But, you know, actually desire what you sell.

I’m thinking about those ten thousand or so brand managers, directors, VPs and GMs who must sell more soap, yogurt, cars, paper towels, hotel rooms and whatnot this year if they want the privilege of trying again next year.

“Tell me again how you’re getting an extra 1.2 million people to buy our salad dressing this year?” your boss asks.

Don’t panic.  The gal running frozen foods raised ranch sales 13 quarters in a row before she got promoted.

And Facebook didn’t even exist back then.

Facebook!  Everyone’s on Facebook.  And you know their interests and activities, so you can micro-target.  Moms cultivating urban rooftop carrot gardens and bunny lovers over thirty flip for more dressing, surely.

Wait, not sure what a Facebook ad looks like?

No worries.  Traditional advertising is so last decade.  You just need a catchy post that “activates” your 785,325 friends into spending the next 48 weeks replacing adorable pictures of their kids and pets with pitches of your brand’s emotional drivers.  Moms wilt for your dressing when exposed to them, research says.

OK, on second thought, what else is there?

Wait, you’ve got a drop-dead gorgeous bottle?!

Roll out the package porn.  Seduce moms with its curves and dimples.  Make them crave what’s inside when they see the outside.  Hey, it works for vodka.  Call Annie Liebovitz!  Call the print guys at the media shop.

Oh, right. There aren’t any print guys anymore. They all went digital

Digital!  Duh.  That’s where everyone is.  And it’s so cheap.  You can get 2.3 billion impressions for, like, forty bucks.  Sure, you’ve never actually noticed a banner ad before or, God forbid, clicked on one, but you’re going to impression the bejeesuz out of these people.  They’ll have to notice.

Get Annie back on the phone.  Get that photo shoot back on.  Everyone in America will see that beautiful bottle of yours before spring lettuce sprouts in Fresno.

[3 weeks later]

“Annie, we’ve got a problem.  I can’t see the bottle in these banner ads.  Just the cap.”

Hey, you’re not the first person who tried squeezing a vertical shot into a small, nearly invisible, and, as it turns out, impressively horizontal ad unit we humans ignore like it’s the federal deficit.

At least it was cheap and you still have some money left for the second half.

Speaking of money, though, you’re running a little low.  You could use some good reach and low CPMs.  Have you thought about radio?  Radio.  It’s in your car where the CD player used to be.  You listen to it when you’re driving, assuming you don’t have your iPhone Bluetoothing your faves.  Or SiriusXM.  Or Pandora.  Or anyone under 22 in the car with you.

OK, so what’s left?  Plenty, it turns out:  microscopic banner adlets on mobile phones, ads, apparently, in iPad apps, ads on coffee cups and dry cleaning bags, ads on highway billboards, in-game advertising (oops, sorry, that was two decades ago), ads on race car helmets and, of course, stadium signage.

Granted, most of these media do provide some real value, but not to folks who want to change the way you think or feel about their brands.

And then there’s TV.

Which Americans watch, on average, 4.24 hours per day — virtually unchanged since 2008 (Nielsen), and watch live, not DVRrd – about 90% of the time (Nielsen).

And when we watch, we are compelled, more or less, to watch advertising units that can actually inform us or touch us, emotionally.

Perhaps, that’s why TV actually grew its share of total global ad spend in 2012 (to 40.4% via $200.9 billion of ad spend), while spending shares declined in newspapers, magazines, radio and outdoor (ZenithOptimedia).

The reason is simple: people who need to move product know that, much of the time, they need to move the sentiments of their buying audience first.  And while our eyeballs move to digital, our hearts and minds are left oddly untouched by advertising there.

No wonder those TV folks are throwing such great parties this spring.

(As published by Digiday 4/8/13: “Why TV Still Wins”)

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Bye Bye, Traditional Media Buying

Photo by Shutterstock

(As published by Digiday 12/6/12:  Bye Bye, Traditional Media Buying)

Data, math and real-time bidding are confounding traditional media buyers who favor tons of cash to pound TV networks, radio stations and publishers into pricing submission. Because now, in the online banner ad world at least, pricing leverage doesn’t automatically come from more money; instead it can come from information.

Let’s reminisce: “Mr. NBC, I’ve got an ungodly sum of Ford, Pizza Hut and Verizon ad money to spend this year,” our media buyer confides. “What’re you gonna do for me so I spend it with you?” To which the network sales chief says, “You’ll get our lowest price ever.”

“Say what?,” says our media buyer. “That’s 10% higher than CBS.” The network sales chief, of course, says he’ll do it for less, to which the media buyer says he’ll think about it.

By thinking, of course, he means squeezing. A few more visits to the other networks, a few more concessions and, voila! — the media buyer’s clients get lower pricing, he gets to keep his job another year, and loads of Americans get bombarded with car, pizza and wireless ads. This parade of ads passes before even those viewers who are too young to drive, hate pizza and will see the Eagles in the playoffs before they escape their current phone contracts.

He’s buying channel, which is audience in bulk. He buys the programs or magazines, and he shows the ads to all comers. Generally speaking, the more you buy, the less you pay. Wal-Mart suppliers understand this. No wonder media buying has consolidated over the years. A bigger cash horde translates into better deals.

Thankfully, for the rest of us, the new ways of buying media don’t favor the rich — mostly because we’re not buying media anymore; we’re buying audience, one by one, at auction, in real time.

Granted, this happens today in a pretty small corner of the media world –- about $2 billion worth of RTB display advertising in the U.S., according to eMarketer. But where the numbers may be small, the impact is profound.

The most important question in an auction is: What’s it worth to you? In thinking about auctions, emotion can influence perceived value and pricing. But here we’re talking about the auction of browser cookies, representing anonymous Internet surfers, 20 billion or so times a day, a few milliseconds at a time. It’s about as emotional as an acre of soil.

When a brand bids for the right to serve a banner ad to someone, as they do in RTB display ad buys, the question is: What’s the person worth to the brand? It all boils down to propensity; how likely is the person to behave in the desired way? That’s where information comes in handy, along with some powerful math.

The more you know about the person and the better your predictive models are, the more accurately you can define the person’s value to you. Knowing that value, you know you’re winning when you pay less than that. And if your information and modeling is better than everyone else’s, you’ll win more than your fair share at an auction.

It’s information leverage creating performance advantage — and you don’t need a ton of money to get it.

Image via Shutterstock

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There’s no such thing as a banner campaign


(As published by Digiday August 13th, 2012)

We refer to campaigns so often in advertising that it’s easy to forget that presidential elections and, before that, war owned the term. It ties together, usage-wise. War, politics, advertising. A campaign is about beating someone. It is waged. Right there you know it’s special.

We don’t wage meetings or baseball games. In adland, we fight to sell more soap. In election years, it’s a different kind of soap, but a pitch nonetheless. Either way, it’s about getting your vote.

To win, we wage ad campaigns. It’s heavy sledding selling a candidate. Or soap. Gosh, sometimes they do seem sort of alike, don’t they? We attack your hearts and minds to move you our way — to make you believe something about our soap or candidate that’s better, more meaningful than the others. And in the age of the Internet, the most engaging and dynamic medium ever known, the definition of interactive and home of social media, how do we wage our campaigns?

On TV.

Banner ads don’t move people. And until the Internet offers an ad unit at scale that does, candidates and brands will wage their campaigns elsewhere — for good reason. To begin with, candidates and brands don’t like to be ignored. No wonder they don’t buy banner ads, which have all but cornered the market on invisibility. You know this, I know this. Eighth graders know this.

But wait, you say, we spent $7 billion on banner ads last year. Major companies buy them. Surely, they can’t all be wasting their money. True, banners have their place. You have a two-for-one sale going? Nice. Click here for a great insurance quote? Why not? The nice thing about standard banner ads is they’re cheap (see above re: invisible). If a point-zero-whatever click-through rate generates enough revenue to keep a straight face come review time, go for it.

The other problem with banner ads, for the very, very few people on earth who notice them, is that they’re a little light on emotion. (OMG, did he just say emotion? Where’s the data behind that?)

That’s a problem for brands and politicians, actually. Sometimes — brace yourself — they don’t have that much to say that’s all that different from the other guys. So they try to make you feel like they’re right for you. (Feel? Is this guy employable today?) To make people feel something, you have to get their attention, keep it and engage their minds and senses. Strike one, two and three for your standard banner ad.

And, finally, in those instances where you actually do have something different and meaningful to say, you’d better hope it can be said in fewer than eight words on a plain background that’s about the size of a large nail file if you’re betting your next brand launch, and bonus, on banner ads.

TV advertising, on the other hand, is intrusive, allows for storytelling and evokes emotion. Until websites and online publishers offer brands and politicians at least that much, they have only themselves to blame for missing out on the big campaigns — and the big money that comes with them.

Tarik Sedky is president of MN&P, a New York-based digital agency whose clients include Georgia-Pacific, Callaway Gardens and Grady Hospital, among others. Follow him @tariksed.

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Just three times a week, please


On my way down to New Orleans for Memorial Day I read that the New Orleans Times Picayune will no longer publish seven days a week.  To save money, it’ll hit driveways on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays only.

I was on the flight down when I got the news.  On wifi.  On my computer.

See the connection…I mean, the writing on the wall?

I know.  It’s sad.  Hey, I shell to hold the Wall Street Journal every morning.  I don’t own a Kindle.  I gave my iPad to my two-year old.  One of my biggest clients makes more paper than just about anyone on earth.  I like paper.

I like horses, too.  I just don’t use them to get around much anymore.

It’s easy to understand the end of newspapers, at least the paper part.  Fewer readers, less ad money, deteriorating product, fewer readers, less ad money, deteriorating product, repeat until dead.

What’s tougher, though, is understanding the end of news.  No no, not ALL news.  We’ll always care what Justin Bieber does.

But what about so-called “local” news?  Conventional wisdom says digital picks up the slack.  But, the only person losing more money than Mr. Paper Publisher on local news right now is Mr. Tim Armstrong at AOL.  He’s trying to build an all-digital local news network, and it ain’t going very well (quick, tell me how much time you spent last week-year-lifetime on patch.com/yourneighborhood).


Junk mail went from paper spam to digital spam no problem.  But local news?  Are people just not consuming it like they used to?  A lost appetite?  Hard to imagine.  But, like they say, follow the money.  For local news, it’s not in paper and it’s not online.

Maybe the radio guys should sharpen their knives.  You know, come to think of it, there are a lot of all-news stations popping up on FM lately.  Hmmm.  We’ll listen to local news but we won’t read it?  Now that Twitter and Facebook tell us what’s really important in our lives, do we only really care about traffic and weather, locally?

We are, clearly, in the digital age.  We are connected to more people, places and events farther away than ever before.  By a lot.  Is that having a profound effect on our definition of “local?”  This is starting to sound like a book topic, not a blog post.  So I’ll wrap it up.

I didn’t know what a picayune was until now.  I just looked it up (Wikipedia not Brittanica).  It was a Spanish coin, worth half a real.  The word stems from the French picaillon, which derives from the Provencal picaioun, meaning “small coin”.

And here’s the killer, as Wikipedia highlights:  “By extension, picayune can mean “trivial” or “of little value.”

What does that say about the Times?

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Brands should move banner money into spam and junk mail

fanclublogoThe average response rate for junk mail is 1.38%.

The average click-through rate for marketing email is 6.64%

The average open rate for a thirty-second television commercial is…oh, right, we don’t measure TV spots that way.  Yet.

But that’s precisely how we assign value to ads on humankinds’ most immersive and engaging medium to date.

The average click-through rate on banner ads is 0.2%.  About seven times worse than junk mail.

What a disgrace.  And I’m not talking about the click-through rate.

The Internet can deliver a brand experience that makes TV feel like a manicure in a massage parlor.  And, yet, Internet advertising sinks to the lowest-possible performance denominator.

It’s a story made for TV.  Literally.  The TV guys couldn’t have scripted a better, more self-serving misuse of the technology that should be killing them.

The problem, for brands at least, traces back to the roots of the Internet.  Commercially-speaking, it was an unsponsored medium.  The Defense department funded the Internet’s early days.  No soap selling there.

At first, online hobbyists donated what content their geek-club friends could see.   Ad-free from the start, a growing audience breathed in ever more news and videos like so much air from Mother Earth.  No ads in air.  No ads on the Internet.

The Internet should have commercialized properly as audiences grew.  Surely the VCs thought as much while funding the bejesus out of every imaginable start-up in the late ‘90s.

Instead, thousands more websites emerged to feed a growing audience with ever more content, tools, applications, games.  Valuable things.  The things you’d expect to pay for.  Except you and I didn’t pay a nickel.  The VCs paid for it.  Waiting, surely, for those sites to actually make some money off of the people visiting.

Didn’t happen.  Instead:  lots of unemployed dotcom-ers and legions more hooked on free content.

By the time broke and dying publishers figured out they could make real money from their millions of site visitors, the damage was done.  The interruption-free Content Entitlement Act had been adopted by Internet nation.

And it was about to be compounded.

The basic consumer line was this:  you make me watch/experience/deal with an ad and I’ll take both eyeballs elsewhere.

Publishers blinked.  They chose audience over money.  Instead of creating ad units that people would be forced to actually see/use/engage with (also known as the kind of ads brands would pay good money for), they tucked a few more invisible banners into more and more pages.

They’ve been trying ever since to sneak brands back onto the screen in a meaningful way, and get them to pay more than what current banner ads are worth, which is basically nothing in far too many cases.

Meanwhile, Google happened. Suddenly all online advertising (or just plain all advertising?) can and should be measured for effectiveness.  Immediate effectiveness.

And, not that you’d ever accuse banner ads of contributing much to longer-term measurements anyway, but it’s a mute point in Clickopolis.

If website publishers DID actually force visitors to see/use/engage with truly interactive ad experiences, it’d take about 2 days for this conversation to happen:

Brand manager:  What’s the click through rate on that new Yahoo ad unit?

Deputy assistant brand manager:  .1%

Brand manager:  Pull it.

And, yet, with a 0.0% click through rate on that same brand manager’s TV campaign, the commercials keep rolling, $million after $million.

As we know, they don’t measure clicks on TV ads.  They measure sales and have been since TV was born 70 years ago.  Recall, TV was initially sponsored by soap, not the Department of Defense.

And why do they measure TV ads by sales?  Because TV ads actually influence the way we think and feel, which, it turns out, has a lot to do with what we buy.

The Internet could take this power of persuasion to the next level.  It offers everything TV has, plus entirely new dimensions of experience, connectedness and interaction.

But to make it work we’ll have to interrupt people’s online experience and look beyond click-through rates for measurement.

Meanwhile, marketers should spend more of that banner money on spam and junk mail.  It works better.

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Irrational exuberance in Internet adland? Facebook made $3.15 billion from ads last year as an “afterthought”


By now you know Facebook filed yesterday to go public.  I learned about it on Twitter.

Shortly thereafter, Digiday Editor-In-Chief Brian Morrissey astutely posted five initial thoughts about Facebook advertising.

He got me thinking:  Facebook sees advertising as, basically, an “afterthought,” and, yet, they did $3.15 billion in advertising last year.

Pity the rest of us who spend every waking moment thinking of little but advertising and would celebrate, and retire on, the rounding error there.

Three point one billion dollars.

Do you know what it costs, advertising-wise, to get, say, 80% of America to know a new brand?  You do?  We’ve been trying to figure that out for decades.  But, let’s say $100 million is a safe bet.  OK, let’s say $200 million is a sure thing.

$200 million.  Or, put another way, $.2 billion.  As in, the bit that’s to the right of the decimal point on Facebook’s ad number.  Like, the part you’d just drop if you were in a hurry.  So, even though Facebook takes a page from the “Good to Great” model and notes they have but one measly percent of all the ad money spent on every type of advertising imaginable ON EARTH, trust me, $3.15 billion is a big advertising number.

Speaking of Facebook ads, they’re puny, easy to ignore and not exactly setting the world on fire performance-wise (Adweek Report: Facebook Ad Performance Is Abysmal, Jan 31, 2011).  Some folks still don’t know Facebook even has ads.  My kids know about them because they click on them by mistake.

Pretty much what you’d expect, really, from an afterthought.

Can you remember a Facebook ad?  I can.  It’s for a pair of pants that’s supposed to make a man’s butt look better.  I think it’s for a brand called Bonobos, or something like that. I’ve never bought a pair, but I’ve seen the ad a lot.

Outside of certain CIA budgets, advertising on Facebook may be the quietest $3.15 billion ever spent.

So, to me, the fascinating question is this:  why did advertisers spend $3.15 billion on Facebook ads last year?

I think the answer is “irrational exuberance” in Internet adland.

Social media is all the rage.  Everyone’s on Facebook.  Brands want to be “Liked” by lots of people.  And, when you advertise on Facebook, not only can you mirco-target your “afterthoughts” to microscopically-precise audience segments, but you can also track in glorious detail the effect of your little ads, complete with charts, graphs, colors, percentage changes and conversion ratios.  And there is practically no barrier to entry.  All you need’s a credit card and fifty bucks or so to get started.

It’s really quite fun to see those little ads actually grow those numbers week after week.  “And here you can see the number of people who ‘Liked’ us grew another 2.7% this month.”  Very gratifying, really, for the brand folks who’ve always had to sing and dance a little when the time came for demonstrating the latest campaign’s success.

Oh, but, there is one thing that very clean & simple, eternally-heading-in-the-right-direction Facebook ad dashboard doesn’t show:  how much more (or less) soap you sold last month.

Hey, as long as my boss is cool with that, so am I.

Alas, the lure of riding a wave with eternal growth that’s socially encouraged and cheap and easy to invest in is deceiving marketers about the real market value of what they’re buying.

If you bought a house in 2006, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

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Super Bowl yes. Super advertising no.


It’s Super Bowl time.  The ad community is lathering up for the “Oscars of the ad business.”

I’m setting my sights pretty low.

One person’s view, but Super Bowl ads lately have underwhelmed.  I’m trying to remember one now.  Oh yes, GoDaddy.  Well, I don’t remember the ad, exactly. I do know what GoDaddy does, though, which puts me in the minority. Since they’ve been peddling soft porn Super Bowl spots I’ve purchased ten or so domain names.  From Network Solutions.

Wait, I’m being unfair.  It’s not really the Super Bowl.  It’s advertising in general.

Talk to me about the great ad campaigns of all time.

What, the crowd-sourced, do-it-yourself snack work didn’t make the list?  Nothing with chimps?  How about the new light beer campaign launched on the Big Game last year (They did launch one, didn’t they?  Don’t they always?)  Wait, pop-culture-driven colas always have good work.  Oh, right, they did a fundraiser instead.  Or, maybe that was the year before.

Why are the all the truly great ad campaigns things of the past?

Because it’s too hard to measure their success.  Here, have a look –

CEO:  “So, that ad campaign you ran last year, how’d it do?”

CMO:  “Great!”

CEO:  “Really?  How do you know?”

CMO:  “Everyone loves it.  Ad recall and brand image numbers were through the roof.  We shattered our purchase intent norms.  And sales rose 17%.”

CEO:  “How do you know the sales increase came from the advertising?”

CMO:  “Well, you can’t know for absolutely certain, but when all those other numbers go up and then sales go up, we feel pretty good that they’re related.”

CEO:  “You feel?  The guys from Google don’t feel anything.  They know.  They always know for an absolute fact how many people clicked and then purchased.”

CMO:  “Yes, well, people can’t click on our TV ads to buy yogurt.  At least not yet.  And, even if they could, I’m not sure they would.”

CEO:  “I need better than ‘I feel.’  The board could give a crap about how you ‘feel.’  I need to see the ROI on that campaign.  We spent $40 million on it.  How much more yogurt did we sell because of it?”

CMO:  “It’s not like online advertising.  We can’t just see some kind of definitive conversion ratio.”

CEO:  “You’re fired.”

Trust me, the next CMO doesn’t try to make anyone “feel” anything.  That’s why you can watch 100 commercials this week and not “feel” like buying a single product advertised.

What a bummer!

Meanwhile, rest assured people are getting promoted out of cubicles everywhere counting all those website hits and Facebook likes and Twitter mentions, scrutinizing conversion ratios and pay-per-click trends, and analyzing which mobile platforms yielded higher page view numbers.

I hope it’s a good game at least.

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Can video sites crack the original content code? HBO did.


You may have heard lately that online video sites like YouTube and Hulu are launching more original content.

Hard to resist, from their perspective.

Imagine having hundreds of millions of people come to your site every month to watch somebody else’s content.  In YouTube’s case, that somebody else is you and your pet videos.  On Hulu it’s re-runs of real programming.

Anyway, where were we…oh, yes, hundreds of millions of people.  And the ad revenue that comes with them.

You know what this reminds me of?

Grocery stores.

All those people, all that money going to Kraft, General Mills and Coca-Cola.  I’d like to have been the guy pitching the supermarket CEO with bar charts and this idea:  “Let’s just sell our own soup and paper towels and keep a whole lot more of the money ourselves!”

If Hulu makes the shows that people watch on their site, they can keep all the ad revenue instead of paying the folks who own the reruns they’re airing now.

And, if the show’s any good, they can draw more people to their site since it probably won’t be available elsewhere.  More people = more ad revenue.  The irony is that if the show’s really, really good, it’ll probably end up on TV.

If being the operative word.

Quick, tell me your favorite original content, online-only show.

We’ve had, what, five years of decent enough bandwidth during which someone could have created a legitimate online national programming hit.  I’m talking Glee, not College Humor (look it up).   Why hasn’t it happened?  It’s not for lack of audience.   Everyone is online.

Here’s why:  because it’s practically impossible to create a hit show.  Just ask NBC, they’ve been trying for years.  And, by try, I mean they pay boatloads for the best writers, directors, producers, and actors in the world.  Then, they promote the hell out of every new show.  And still, no Friends replacement.

Personally, though, I’m glad the online folks are going after original content.  I think it will drive us to more of an iTunes content consumption model than the ridiculous album-like equation we have currently.  Today we’re forced to buy 6000 channels and a gazillion programs every month, even though we only watch about ten of them.  If Hulu or NetFlix or even Yahoo or AOL can make it so I only have to pay for the programming I watch, I’m better off by at least fifty bucks a month I figure.

Tough as it’ll be to create original content with mass appeal and audience online, one thing’s for sure:  it’ll never happen if they don’t try.

Hey, once upon a time HBO just showed re-runs, too.

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Today’s agencies are albums in an iTunes world

I love the song Strawberry Letter 23 by the Brothers Johnson but I had to buy the whole album to get it

I love the song Strawberry Letter 23 by the Brothers Johnson but I had to buy the whole album to get it

Maybe the answer to the agency problem isn’t an agency.  At least, not in the way we’ve always thought about them.

Agencies today are like albums in an iTunes world.   But the talent and technology does exist to change the paradigm so clients get what they want more efficiently and cost-effectively.

On an album there were usually a few songs you really liked.  But to hear them, you had to buy the whole album.  You bought a lot of tracks you didn’t want so you could hear your favorites.

Now, of course, you just buy the songs you want.

And, you pay only ninety-nine cents for them, not nine bucks for the album.  You get more of what you want for less.  The record business, on the other hand, gets beaten to death.

Clients today need and want more songs but are kind of stuck buying albums.

Imagine being a client today.  You need:  tv, print, radio, out-of-home, online banners, paid search, organic search, mobile apps, mobile banners, mobile search, mobile text, a Facebook page, Twitter feeds, and a LinkedIn profile, not to mention qr codes, branded content, in-game advertising, product placement and, now that your MySpace page doesn’t matter and your boss gave up on a viral YouTube video, you also need a location-based check-in program and, for now at least, a Groupon deal.

As a client, where do you go for all that?

To agencies.  And not just one or two of them.

And what, exactly do you get at each agency?  Well, there’s the receptionist, the CEO, the CFO, the bookkeeper, the lawyer, the CMO, the account guy, the senior account guy, the intern, the strategist, the project manager, the planner, the comms channel guy, and, thankfully, some creatives , developers and designers who come up with ideas and make something for you to use.

You want a TV ad?  Buy the ad agency album. Mobile app?  That’s on a different album.  How about search?  Different album.

That’s a lot of albums.  A lot of receptionists and bookkeepers and account guys and senior account guys and CEOs and CMOs and strategists you have to buy just to get the actual products and services you want.

As a client, wouldn’t it be nice to go to one place and get everything you want from one place?

Wait, I think I hear [fill in name of ad agency holding company CEO]:  “We have everything you need in our portfolio of two thousand three hundred and forty-four companies, and we will provide you with a fully-integrated team of world-class talent in every possible discipline led by a single point of contact who can manage these resources even though they reside in sixteen different profit centers and four countries.”

No need to waste space here detailing the hideousness of this fantasy.  Google “Enfatico.”

The people who actually produce the things that clients need are like songs.  And, for the past 100 years, these people have worked mostly at agencies.  They’ve been packaged in agency vinyl.

Right now, there is no iTunes for marketing and advertising solutions.

But, there could be.  All you need are talented people un-tethered from agency anchors, and the right way to connect them with client needs and projects.

As for the former – the independent talent?  That inventory’s growing every day.  If you’re great at what you do and can make a good living enriching yourself and your  own life rather than adding another million or two to [fill in name of ad agency holding company CEO again], then guess what?

The second part — creating the right way to connect these folks with client needs and projects — is not as fully formed.

Emphasis on the right way.

The genius of iTunes wasn’t the uncoupling of songs from albums and making them available as singles on an mp3 player.  Kazaa and a host of others beat Apple to that by a few years.  They also made us part with the better part of too many nights and some portion of our hard drives, thanks to a brutal user experience and rampant viruses.

Apple made it clean, easy and legal.  They secured the delivery.

For the new agency model (environment? operating system?) to work, clients will need their form of secure delivery, too.

Specifically, they will need strategic, reliable and cohesive teams.

Maybe the agency of the future will be more like a producer or talent manager who provides clients with just the right, and right amount of, talent, and guarantees effective delivery.  They’ll do this by dealing with a lot of contracts and admin and coordination you’ll never see – just like iTunes gets you the songs you want, never you mind how they make it happen.

Impossible?  When was the last time you bought a CD…

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