The Future Waits For No One.

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How Do Marketers and Traditional Ad Agencies Continue to Miss the Golden Goose Sitting in Their Lobbies?


It seems pretty obvious that marketers, and the networks they support, have quit seeing television as an entertainment medium and have instead turned it into a branded content forum. This is evident in the generally poor quality of programming, abysmal script writing, and complete infusion of every square inch of set with product placement. Oh, and every fifteen minutes, we (the viewers) get the privilege of watching 2–3 minutes of not-so-hidden messages called commercials.

After reading this, you might be inclined to think it’s the viewer we feel most sorry for (and, joking aside, we do). But think about this: it costs companies on average a couple of million dollars to shoot and run a television ad on a major network (less for syndicated cable, and a lot less for local cable at 3am). It costs them several million more for relevant product placements. And now the really good news: their audience (18–34-year-olds) isn’t watching. We feel for these companies. They’re completely missing it.

That’s right. The demographic that companies work so hard to reach actively ignores them. Don’t believe us? Just check out the staggering increases for on-demand subscribers, PVR and DVD recorder sales, the number of people who watch two shows at once because they refuse to be subjected to ads, and the drops in cable subscription for 18–26-year-old households. Also consider that only one in four 18-year-olds can name the four major networks. And 75% of this same demographic reports being online, IMing, writing a paper, or talking on their cells at the same time they do watch television.

Now, here’s the really sad part. The ad agencies that companies hire to help them stay relevant are so mired in bureaucracy, outdated business models, and media relationships that they don’t dare tell their clients that the services they’re providing are essentially useless. That’s because they can’t or don’t know how to change. Again, here’s the proof. This job posting for an Interactive Copywriter comes from a well-respected ad agency that lives just down the street from space:

[We] would like to hire a writer. But not just any writer. We’re looking for an interactive writer, which [for us] means something very different. Something much bigger. We are not looking for someone who thinks ads are the be all, end all. Or who are really just trying to get their foot in the door of [our] advertising creative department.

Let’s stop right there. Look at that last sentence again. We don’t want someone who’s “trying to get their foot in the door of [our] advertising creative department”—wait: what are you saying? Are we to believe that the Interactive Department and the Creative Department are two exclusive entities? That because interactive doesn’t fall into the category of print, radio, or television, it’s banished to the corner with its special-needs brother, direct mail?

Honestly, did someone forget to tell them that YouTube gets over a hundred million hits a day? And how about the We Are The Web video recently created here at space150? There’s a project that cost markedly less to produce and air than all but the worst car dealership spots and in little more than a month, it’s garnered 112.5 million hits.

Now compare these impressions to the quality of attention normal television ads receive. Users actively searched out, passed on, and blogged about our We Are the Web site. That’s right, they went to it on purpose, watched it, and then commented on it. No one tried to avoid it, because it was never forced on anyone. It even received free air time on Yahoo’s home page. That alone is worth millions.

So, if companies really know their customers (and with the billions spent each year on market research we have to believe they think they do), why are they spending money on marketing companies who don’t seem to understand how digital products are changing the landscape of communication?