media channels

Is Digital, The DNA of all Modern Advertising?

I just finished reading an article on ClickZ by Augustine Fou, that talks about Digital Content being at the root of modern advertising. This is interesting because it fits in with a number of discussions I have been having with various clients and colleagues over the last few years.

My point, and one that Fou eludes to is, not everything begins and ends with your website, or Facebook fan page, or a banner ad, but rather it is made by the cultural impact created from all of these digital options. It’s not that people live their lives online, but rather people use these digital properties, in ways that are integrated with so much stuff in their lives. Even when you don’t think you are online, you are. You use digital technology when you pay for items with a credit or debit card, you use it in the TV programs you watch, when you have your smart phone check movie times or help you find a location. It impacts you when you are waiting inline to check out at a store and there is a screen in front of you that commands your attention. More and more, all of the digital components in your life become more ubiquitous and literally everywhere. And more over you relate to it and use it, even if you are not actively searching for information about a product or service. In the end there is ultimately more and more human behavior that is now being tracked or linked enhanced or enabled by the digital properties that are embedded all around us. And due to the nature of this digitally enabled request and receive behavior, all of this information can be leveraged to understand needs and desires.

The value of these digital breadcrumbs, the information that we leave behind in our modern world can’t be overemphasized. I was just talking with a client about why integrating digital components at the core of their marketing and advertising initiative was so key. Because it allows for unprecedented analysis of data. Data that is related to how people interact with these specific digital properties in relationship to more traditional media channels. I was trying to make the case for more efficient and effective advertising, especially when it is designed from the beginning to take advantage of human insights and behavior.

Unlike Fou, I don’t necessarily think that digital is the center of the advertising universe, but it is a key element of the modern landscape. A ubiquitous component, rather than simply another media channel.

Advertising By the People, For the People

There is a newer term in advertising these days. It’s called astroturfing? Basically it refers to what happens when a company or organization tries to create a grassroots movement  using, well… plastic grass. What I mean by this is that they work give their cause the appearance of a popular  grassroots movement, but in reality they’re actually creating a smoke and mirrors marketing campaign for themselves. I’ve been looking Microsoft’s efforts lately and I have to say that Crispin Porter+Bogusky have done a great job with the campaign and creating a for the people by the people illusion. But if we look at them one by one, from the 30,000 foot view, the pattern is really pretty clear. Microsoft is on an astroturfing rampage, or maybe CP+G is helping to orchestrate one on behalf of Microsoft.

Lets look at the Laptop Hunters campaign. It features real people searching for the perfect laptop, they are filmed documentary style as they search through popular big box stores until they find the right computer. The real people in these ads are actors. The most famous of which is the red head Laura, whose head shot and bio turned up on the internet within hours after the TV commercial aired.

Now lets talk about the  Windows 7 launch parties. Microsoft is using you to enlist your friends and relatives into the revolution. The parties were sponsored by Microsoft, and while it is a better attempt at creating real grass-roots buzz, they fall a little short since they instigated and sponsored the parties. Not the populous they wish had done this on their own.

Now the Microsoft Stores hype. Microsoft quietly grew crowd size at the store launches by promoting concert ticket giveaways, and paying pop stars to be present. This was all designed  to help build that frenzied crowd on opening day. The kind of crowd that naturally occurs when Apple opens a flagship store or launches a new product like the iPhone or the latest flavor of OSX.

And most recently there is the  Windows 7 campaign. At least in this series of ads Crispin Porter+Bogusky has real people not actors doing the talking. And they are claiming that the feature sets of the new OS are based on real input from these folks. But is it really a product “built by the people.” or is it more a product tweaked and redesigned based on all the negative feedback that came from Vista? A number of the features claimed to be “By The People.” are things that were constantly brought up as Fail’s in tech reviews of the OS.

Now where is all of this going you ask? At the end of the day this is an unsaid truth.  It’s hard to start a grassroots movement for a company that owns 90% or more of the market share. And it’s even harder when your brand is seen in a much maligned light like Microsoft’s is. Microsoft knows that the majority of people don’t see them with the same level of blind brand devotion that you get with people like Mac heads, So to Microsoft and CP+B’s credit, they have a  solution – show people liking them. There is solid logic to this, but it can only go so far. At a certain point the general public grows weary, and sees through the transparent plastic of the campaign.

Apple uses real customers in their ads only rarely yet they’ve created super-passionate advocates. Now that isn’t to say that they didn’t do a bit of astroturfing in their own right. Guy Kawasaki’s famous email list, while appearing to be grass-roots was in fact sponsored and paid for by Apple while he was the “Chief Evangelist” at Apple. More recently though they simply present their products in a variety of interesting ways, and they have used the mystique and elite brand value of Apple to carry them forward.

Good advertisers understand that authenticity is always what connects with customers. When Nike celebrates the spirit of the athlete, it reads as authentic. Why did I buy into  Mini-Cooper hook line and sinker? Because they talked about the fun of driving, and sold it as an authentic thing I could believe in. More over, they did it the first 4 years the car was on sale in the USA with no TV advertising at all. This is unheard of for an automobile maker in the States. None the less they were able to create tremendous buzz via all other media channels and used the internet to effectively sell the product. A large portion of it done with real people talking about their experience with the product, all of which was designed to complement the advertising that Mini was creating as well.

Now I am not saying that Microsoft can’t make this work. I really do like the I’m a PC TV spots. They are well done, and hit home with a large number of people. They need to look at what really works here and play to those strengths.