Hyper-innovation: great for consumers, except for the advertising

yawn big funnyYou checked out the ads on TV these days?  Or, like, for the last couple years?

I guess by definition I’m asking folks over the age of 15.  Ask the younger crowd what they watch and see how “idiot” is spelled with just a gaze in reply, unless you’re asking about the last Glee episode.  Facebook’s a verb now, like Google.

Anyway, back to the commercials.

They just seem a lot more…boring, and I think it’s because the real hero lately is the product.

Even the world’s biggest soap maker constantly talks about innovation.  3M is re-organizing sand crystals on sand paper.  GMC truck ads look like  schematics highlighting all the technology.  The latest Apple Air spots are, well, like all the other Apple spots for all their other products, minus the hip soundtrack:  dripping drop-dead gorgeous shots of the product itself.  Tech porn.  Go to the Gatorade homepage and you’ll see new versions, formulas and packages for what was once referred to as “Gatorade.”  Droid ads are Droid does.

In fact, the pace of product innovation today is mind blowing and ad-land is using a camera more than its imagination to tell the world all about it.

It wasn’t always so.  Anyone who ever connected with (the old version of) Young & Rubicam remembers brand studies through the BAV lens (Brand Asset Valuator).  I don’t remember the complete pledge we swore at most client meetings, but it went something like:  “relevant differentiation, relevant differentiation, relevant differentiation.”  In other words, find something that’s different about you that your customers care about, and say that.

Well, that was often harder than it sounds.  Parity was on good terms with most brands at the time.

We had the Jello biz.  7-UP.  MetLife.  KFC.  Advil.  Guess how many “new” versions of those products emerged every year?  Like, zero.  Maybe one.  So, we and all our pals at all the other agencies had to get people to buy more of our clients’ stuff the old fashioned way.  We had to make things up.  Leo Burnett famously said if you don’t have something to say, sing it.  So we sang our hearts out, thirty-seconds at a time.

It was great.  And the people who could dream up the best stories and bring them to life were crowned, rightly, the agency rock stars.  They created real magic.  They made us want to go to Sears.  Eat Jell-o.  Use AT&T.  Usually, without saying a word about what was actually IN the product, or what made it unique in any tangible, physical way.

But think about products today.  You can’t possibly keep up with all the brand extensions and innovations lately.  For every new version of your favorite cookie, soda or cigarette, there’re five or ten for tech gadgets.  We’ve seen how many iPhone versions since it launched three years ago?  (At least 4).  You checked out the menu at McDs lately?  There’s probably a vegan section somewhere.  And who knows what version of Facebook we’re on.

In contrast, it took over 60 years to go from Coke to Diet Coke.

Now, talk to me about great Coke commercials.

Mean Joe Green?  Yes.  Lawyers suing for patent infringement (Coke Zero)?  Not quite.

Today’s “relevant differentiation” is coming right from the products.  3-D TVs.  Plug-in cars.   Trans-fat-less, carb-less, alcohol-less beer.

Thinking back on what Leo said, I guess this means agencies today actually having something to say.

Pity, at least where advertising is concerned.  If FedEx starts touting new planes and faster-than-the-speed-of-sound conveyor belts, I might have to join the 15-year-olds and turn off the TV altogether.


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