Marketers prolong TV-centric approach

Twice a year, the marketing business pauses in its reinvention to expose its fear of fundamental change and highlight the disconnect that exists between what it says and what it does.

One of those moments passed in February, when the Super Bowl celebrated the 30-second spot as what observers from an alien culture would surely believe was the pinnacle of modern marketing. The second moment is on its way, as the broadcast upfronts — those oft-touted meetings during which the networks dance with their potential sponsors — approach.

The lingering appeal of both the Super Bowl and the upfronts to big brand marketers is easy enough to understand. In the first instance, it’s a chance to reach the largest possible number of people at once, at a time when they’ve been trained to pay as much attention to the advertising as to the programming. In the second, it’s the opportunity to lock in prime real estate at what appear to be the best prices to ensure a continued ability to deliver messaging to a target audience within the context of specific programming.

In reality, though, both events perpetuate a TV-centric approach to marketing that ensures the networks continue to swallow up the lion’s share of budgets before other media platforms and marketing disciplines have a shot at those dollars.

This isn’t a knock on TV advertising; really, it’s not. Most marketers have convincing evidence that TV continues to be an effective and efficient tool, and one that no other weapon in their arsenal can yet replicate.

However, the TV-first approach does provide a false comfort and interferes with many brands’ ability to adapt to a new marketplace. Rare is the CMO who doesn’t give a speech these days noting that times and consumer behaviors have changed and that smart marketers need new ways to reach and engage audiences. Yet many of those same CMOs continue to pour record dollars into the upfront each year, then leave other platforms and disciplines to fight over the remaining table scraps. It relegates innovation to experimentation.

Digital players Facebook and Efficient Frontier are doing what they can to shift the balance, including creating their own version of the upfront — but without TV’s advantage of finite inventory, they don’t have the leverage to drive meaningful budget shifts.

However, there’s a lot of great work being done on the side stages. Direct marketers are developing snazzy iPhone apps that personalize the buying experience and allow customers to interact directly with the brands themselves. Experiential agencies are using social media to amplify the impact of live events. Content developers are creating brand-inspired story lines that change perceptions. Mobile devices are enabling e-commerce. YouTube, Hulu and Netflix are producing and distributing cable-quality programming.

Innovation is coming from the TV business as well. NBC’s “The Voice” is one of several programs that weave social commentary into each episode to engage audiences. New technologies such as Viggle aim to enhance the “second-screen” experience for viewers who play around with tablets and mobile devices while watching TV.

The 30-second Super Bowl spot, though, remains the face of the ad industry for too many people. That over-the-top spectacle is not the showcase for the industry’s best creative minds that it pretends to be. Most of the spots lack originality, insight and inspiration, yet are dissected as if they hold the key to the industry’s future.

They don’t. They’re a tactic, not a strategy. The sooner ideas, rather than tactics, are placed at the center of the marketing model, the more likely the industry will be able to carve its path to true reinvention.

Missed Scott’s column on targeting last month? Click here to have a read.

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