Convergence: what’s old is new again

Life used to be so simple. In the early days of TV, Tuesday night meant the Texaco Star Theater with Milton Berle and the sum total of the title sponsor's creative was four Texaco Service Men opening the show with the oil company's jingle.

Life used to be so simple. In the early days of TV, Tuesday night meant the Texaco Star Theater with Milton Berle and the sum total of the title sponsor’s creative was four Texaco Service Men opening the show with the oil company’s jingle.

Today that approach seems naive, even childish. No advertising has been so overt since.

From the time in the late 1950s when networks began to divvy programs into individual commercial breaks, advertising models whether in TV, radio or newspapers have remained unchanged. Traditionally, advertising calls attention to itself by setting itself aside from the content.

In the last few years, however, that model has rapidly begun to prove itself outdated.

And so the pendulum is beginning to swing back. U.S. networks, faced with audience fragmentation and declining revenues, announced recently that they are ready to accept sponsors for entire programs and are willing to let advertisers influence set and costume decisions.

How that will manifest itself, is still unclear, but we like the idea of ‘Everybody Loves Raymond and a Coke.’

While this is an echo of simpler times, there is nothing simple about the circumstances. At every corner of the market, brands are looking for ways to break through and stand out from the competition.

Faced with growing cynicism and distrust among consumers, particularly young people – the single most important group to any brand looking to build long-term loyalty – advertising is in constant morph, looking for a means to infiltrate the culture without necessarily declaring itself.

And product placement and sponsorship are just the tip of the iceberg.

The 2001 Cannes Media Gold Lion Grande Prix winner, for example, was a Florida anti-tobacco campaign disguised as a movie promo for a film called Secrets. The campaign consisted of in-theatre trailers plus cinema and outdoor creative that mimicked the format of movie posters.

In this world, media buyers and sellers are taking on an ever more important role in developing the creative direction of communications. Marketers look to buyers to find the best way in to meet strategic needs and then let the creative holistically flow from there.

M2 Universal president Hugh Dow, for example, played a lead role in developing the Royal Bank of Canada’s ‘Quarterly Report’ campaign sponsoring polls and news stories on Canadian society, our economy and education systems. In essence the media buy was the genesis in crafting a means for the RBC to put its logo on in-depth coverage of issues important to Canadians.

Such media-side initiatives are producing some very innovative advertising around the world as well.

One of our favorites was a 2000 campaign for Nike Cross Training in Latin America that consisted of a series of live commercial breaks with people working out and trying to motivate viewers to get off the couch and get some exercise. The actors even went so far as to give away the ending of the movie airing (Big) to get viewers motivated.

Yet, with all these exciting initiatives popping up, advertisers must continue to be vigilant. As they look for new and innovative ways to infiltrate culture, they must keep in mind that the line between a really smart ad and undermining the credibility of a medium is razor thin. Hostile consumers will become doubly so if they think that they are being taken for a ride.

It’s an exciting time to be observing the ad industry.

On that note, I would like to take this opportunity to say goodbye to the readers of Strategy. This is my last issue as news editor. From here, I am off to our sister publication Playback to take over as editor of its spin-off On The Spot which covers Canada’s commercial production industry.

I will be bringing with me all the learning that I acquired in my time on Strategy and will apply what I can to thoughtful coverage that will hopefully continue to be of interest to marketers and advertisers. Check us out in the coming months.

Lisa D’Innocenzo will be stepping up as news editor here. She is an excellent reporter and her many years covering retail, fashion and marketing have prepared her admirably for the job. Best of luck to her.

Peter Vamos

News Editor