Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Why targeting the ad message can't be enough

I was at MobiAdnews' Nokia-sponsored thought leader meeting today on the subject of mobile advertising, and I have to thank the organisers for bringing us together.
It was a small but interesting group ranging from representatives of creative agencies, to brand owners, to media buyers, to content creators, to yet-to-be launched mvnos, to handset makers, to bloggers...
Some great ideas and predictions were shared, many of which will be summarised in the MobiAdnews reports on the event (which I'll point you at when they become available).
And while there was some consistent thinking around some of the barriers we all see, and the potential opportunities, the one thought that stayed with me was that there remains a huge reluctance to let go of mass and centralised control.
Ajit (Jaoker - OpenGardens), and I both raised the impact long tail will have on the mobile internet - and the neccessity to create opportunities for advertisers and content creators at this end of the spectrum (a la google adsense).
But there may be a more fundamental issue. If you are wedded to the notion of selling mass produced products to mass audiences, you're likely to be tied to the ideas of mass markets, mass media and attention for eyeballs.
To really grasp how things are going to change we have to understand that the same thing that is happening to media (ie disaggregation, co-creation, the use of platforms to serve communities of shared interest, setting their own agendas and creating their own rules, content (and yes, 'adverts') will inevitably happen to all mass produced things.
How do you sell a mass produced one-size-fits-all product to people who want their content disaggregated and delivered to them exactly where they want it, when they want it, and honed to the interests they self-select and/or navigate to/discover through trusted communities?
One answer might be to tailor the advert to the segmented user group. Take a look at realtimecontent.com for a vision of this.
It's a brave attempt to solve a difficult problem. But I'm not comfortable with it. I wasn't sure why before. Now I think I am - it doesn't address the fundamental miss-match here - that we're trying to sell the same mass produced product to different people by effectively pretending (spinning that) it's a different product.
It ain't, it can't be and it won't be until you let the community of shared interest take a stake in the creative process. Context is not enough.
How does that work in the production of things in which mass means affordable - cars for example?
Well, on a niche global scale, a group of people sharing the same interest in developing the perfect car for a family of 3, which also uses it for the weekly shop and occasional trips to the dump etc could be huge. Certainly large enough to benefit from economies of scale.
If you have that community engaging in the process of design, assessment, testing etc they'll not only become your ready-made market, they also become your ready-made marketing force. They already have a personal investment in the future success of the car. Powerful.

ADDED June 27:
Further to the above - consider which have been the most successful/faster growth consumer products of recent years - PCs, mobiles, mp3 players.
What they all have in common is that they can be hugely personalised. This may not always mean that you can change the style/look of a device, but it does mean that their function can be creatively hacked to meet the individual users requirements. In the case of PCs and mobiles this is through everything from the software they run to the look and feel of their 'desktops', wallpapers, etc etc. In MP3s it is through how the user chooses to fill them (ie uniquely tailored 'content' for you).


  1. It will very much depend on the cost of production.

    I'd quite happily consider paying £20 for a new faceplate for the Xbox 360 on show next to my TV.
    But even i balk at paying the extra £200 to get lights added to an Alienware PC, not matter how much it appears to the geek in me.

    But as with everything, I'm firmly of the belief that the community should be able to take a stake in the creative process, but that has to be a stake with some controls by 'experts' who can ensure that the end result is viable.

    It also means managing that community in a way which brings out the valuable contributions, such as regular interaction from the company itself, and a policy of honesty about what is involved...

    It might lead to some interesting disclosures about how much something actually costs to make, and where the retail mark-up comes from.

  2. I buy the vision absolutely, I buy into the inexorable trend towards a pull economy which will pervade every aspect of production, business and consumption.

    For me it is less a matter of "if" and "what", it is a question of "when" and "how". I find the discipline of articulating new concepts as revolutions (ie with binary outputs) stimulating and useful in terms of filtering a vision of an end game from the clutter of today's reality. However I don't believe life is actually like that. Radio didn't kill the newspaper, nor TV Radio.

    Business models adapt, and even in the face of terminal threat, transformation is much messier and more evolutionary than we would logically anticipate. Why is a separate debate, but one key driver is the motivation of shareholders. Capital markets are not interested primarily in the sustainability of a particular industry or business model - they can always exit and reinvest in other businesses or industries. They are driven by maximising cash in the short term. In a mature business facing disruptive change, it is far easier to drive cashflow by sweating the mature rump of the business than taking a punt on a risky and unproven new business model. The recorded music industry is a prime example of this, and we will see more insanity before the end of that sorry story.

    Hence I recall a conversation last year with the head of entertainment at one of the US's largest retailers. I pointed out to him that by 2010, 25% of his music sales would be digital (now a horribly conservative prediction!) and shouldn't he do something to respond. He countered "so you mean by 2010 75% of my CD business will still be physical. I know where I need to focus!" There are two ends to every telescope !

    There are also structural issues across the media industry which are non trivial (I have discussed these here and here)), plus I believe some significant social issues. It is easy to focus on the 16-24 alpha users. There are many segments of users across the globe all with different historical or cultural context which will impact their adoption of 2.0 behaviours. I have posted a piece on just one aspect of this here..

    But back to RealTimeContent specifically. There are undoubtedly components and partnerships which will need to be added as this market evolves. Tech start-ups needing to raise funding find it far easier if they are both demonstrating capabilities relevant to the future as well as delivering value to customers today. I am much more interested in technologies which will survive into the future because they have a model which will attract the investments needed to fund them through the present. I think RTC is one of these. As production and marketing transition to the "pull" world we envision, I think their proposition will evolve too. One of the first industries to do that is likely to be the content industry itself (far easier to adapt than an industry of physical factories), which is actually where the RTC vision started, and I suspect this will be their ultimate destiny.



The rate of change is so rapid it's difficult for one person to keep up to speed. Let's pool our thoughts, share our reactions and, who knows, even reach some shared conclusions worth arriving at?