How I became ready to Erase Everything and Start Over

I've been using a personal video recorder for almost two years, time shifting almost everything I watch, even the news. My wife uses the PVR, skipping the commercials (even Cossette's) when I'm reading or doing something else on my laptop.

I’ve been using a personal video recorder for almost two years, time shifting almost everything I watch, even the news. My wife uses the PVR, skipping the commercials (even Cossette’s) when I’m reading or doing something else on my laptop.

Like most people in our business, I’d been exposed to research and articles that alerted me to the quickly increasing difficulties surrounding reaching consumers using PVRs in the U.S., and the intention of marketers to transfer money from television to other media. But my worries were kick-started a year ago when Impact Research sent an e-mail to all Cossette employees in Canada asking who owned a PVR.

Five percent of all respondents possessed one. As you know, not everybody answers a ‘to all people’ e-mail, so I estimated that the penetration of PVRs was closer to 8% and projected that Canada would be affected in the next 24 months by significant PVR penetration.

One major consequence of the PVR is that it affects more light viewers – those who spend only 10 hours per month with TV – than other groups. In order to reach that light viewer group, we usually agree to pay a big premium for the most valuable programs from which this group cherry picks. Why? This group represents 40% of the population with 60% of the buying power.

We ran focus groups, and I met with colleagues to discuss the PVR issues, so as to work on potential solutions. Could we limit the impact of the PVR? Are there some opportunities, or should we put the money into other media to reach a target? Do we need to reach all the different target groups that TV has?

Throughout this thinking process, I became more and more convinced that the balance of power has changed and that we now must accept that it is in the hands of the consumer. He is not only in control of viewing mass advertising, but also has a content creation voice on the Internet. It’s obvious when

you look at websites like youtube.com or myspace.com where everybody can share their personal thoughts and videos (some call this egocasting); or amazon.com where consumers give their evaluation of a product. Or blogs, which in some cases, can be a very influential medium.

Based on daily reach (48%) and minutes spent (121), the Internet is now the number three medium in Canada, after television and dailies. So with consumers ignoring ads on the number one medium, and shaping content on the fast-growing third medium, what’s the new plan?

I became convinced that we need to push the reset button on our approach to communication planning.

There’s an upside to the unlimited choice of products and media today – it’s the ability to target very narrow groups. Reset: Media people should invest 50% of their time in understanding the target group and its buying process. These efforts will make prioritizing and planning a lot easier.

For example, in order to be more immediate and influential, and to get closer to the end of the buying process, we need to put consumers in an experiential mood with the brand. And a barrier we bump into when evaluating new niche approaches is that old school metrics don’t apply. One of the biggest challenges is to compare the eyeballs we get from television to those on the Internet when they interact with a micro-site or game, for example. How do you compare millions of people who have been exposed to a car campaign on TV to 100,000 participants in a game on the Internet for the same product? Reset: Change what you measure. Measure impact, not impressions. Results, not eyeballs.

The multitude of changes requires media people to reconsider everything we do. A kind of ground zero thinking is needed to assure that we don’t return to the comfortable way of doing things. It’s time to start over.

As one of the founding partners of Montreal-based Cossette Communication Group, the architect of Cossette Media, creator of both Impact Research and Fjord Marketing Interactive + Technology, Pierre Delagrave has helped keep the agency on the leading edge by taking charge of change rather than simply reacting to it. One of the outcomes of the quest is his book, Erase Everything and Start Over! PVRs, Blogs, and Word of Mouth: The Consumer is Now in Control. Delagrave is also the vice-chairman of the new global independent media services company Columbus Media International. He can be reached at pierre.delagrave@cossette.com.