Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Yes Logo

It's been a while since I posted and recent discussions and thoughts I've had has led me to the desire to defend on of my favorite captialist institutions: advertising.

Advertising's an amazing invention. It creates an incentive for people to provide a quality service without charging people who use it. It's free. Okay, it's not completely free as I have to watch it (though even here there's a strong pressure to make ads more entertaining) but as a poor grad student, I'd rather have an opportunity to take a bathroom break than open my wallet. Even something as simple as the brand itself offers massive bonuses to the consumer.

A random walk on Wikipedia today reminded me that there exists people like Naomi Klein who think branding creates a harmful consumer culture. Her book (No Logo) mostly focuses on the plight of the worker in developing countries and the evils of when firms concentrate into corporations. But let's not forget that because large companies exist, their brand becomes paramount and they gladly sacrifice short-run profit for long-run gain.

Our consumer culture is awash with examples. Google is my favorite (I use several of their products every day--including Blogger--and I have never paid the company one penny) but we see others. NBC now offers some of its primetime shows for free online. (Yes, there's advertising for these episodes but also note there is much less.) Phillip Morris advertises that they give advice on how to quit smoking on their website. Microsoft gives away some of its software. Nike sponsors athletic teams. When a company becomes very large, its brand becomes much more valuable and the firm will take more care to defend it.

This is not a perfect process and some might complain that the corporations' motivations are merely to help itself. They would be right but so what? Does it matter if they are more concerned about make profit than doing good when both are accomplished at the same time? I doubt the hungry care why Kraft Foods donates meals.


Anonymous said...

I don't want to take much issue with this post except to ask what happens when the brand itself is flawed and an attack against it is legitimate? For example, tabacco. The tabacco industry has lied, broken promises, and performed illegal acts because it was profitable for them to do so. That is due in part because of the brand name. Marberlo is one of the most recognized brands in the world. Is that worth breaking the laws to protect?

Now about advertising itself, what do you think about its future and how it connects to products financially. For example, I'm a big fan of the NBC series Heroes. I watch it every Monday and get up during the commericals. I don't pay attention to them. So how good is their advertising dollar?

Because you have to watch every episode to understand what's going on, there's an incentive to record it for friends who missed an episode or to review it. Even with VCRs you can bypass the commericals and with TiVo and other digital recorders, I don't even have to watch it live. I bet I can go on the internet now and download a torrent of tonight's episode, sans commericals.

So what good is TV advertising when it's so easy to ignore it? Same for banner ads on the internet. Have you ever tried to get the free PS3 or whatever?

Advertising itself is too ignorable to really do much good. You have to offer something. When I moved to Wheaton, I started getting weekly fliers and coupons advertising different products. I wouldn't consider buying these products if I didn't get a coupon or something.

Also what type of advertising do you mean? A store sign is advertising. So is a mass spaming campaign. Heck, I work in internet advertising and I can tell you it's easy for an advertising campaign to fall flat.

David said...

Advertising is a broad concept but in this article I was mostly referring to ads that raise the profile of the brand name while not selling any one particular product.

You'll notice that tabacco companies now advertising how to stop smoking in order to help their brand image which I think is incredible--how often do you see companies make an effort to tell people not to used their product? (Of course this could just as easily be by court order; I don't know.)

Still, companies will do nasty things to protect their brand. But given the public outcry that occurs when they lie for that purpose, or any purpose, (again, see tabacco) I don't worry about it too much. There's still a very strong incentive to tell the truth and make genuine improvements in the product(s), particularly since everyone knows about Big Tabacco's fiasco.

The future of advertising is an interesting thing to ponder. First, since you are in internet advertising you would no doubt remember that it used to be dominated by pop-up banners which nobody would read. Thus we don't see that many any more (though there are some). We do see a rise in the Google standard ads, which make an effort to, paradoxically, be inconspicious (as well as unseperable from the viewing medium). With that in mind, remember that people could get up and go to the bathroom since television existed and we've had commericals all this time.

But you're right to point to TiVo (ad agencies HATE TiVo) and there are three ways I imagine this will be dealt with.

The first is one we've already seen: make people want to watch them. Geico ads are hilarious and I'm less likely to step away from the TV if I think one will be on (I've even unmuted the TV to hear new ones.) Another good example are the credit card ads about identity theft with the voice that clearly doesn't match the speaker. Those are really funny, though I can't remember the company that does them. Clearly they need more work.

The second kind of response we might see is much less funny: legal. Devices that allow you to skip ads might be put under restrictions or other such nonsense. It's hard to tell what they might concoct but thankfully it looks like that is not their strategy.

The third option is an umbrella method of genuine adaptation, fundamentally changing how ads are done. Perhaps they will be merged with the media (a running bar at the bottom of the screen) as Google ads are. Perhaps we will see a move from TV and to other places (I've seen ads on the walls of the subway which makes a little movie as the metro car passes them). Perhaps we will see advertisers work with TiVo so their ads cannot be skipped past but will added in such as way that TiVo's appeal won't be lost. It is difficult to tell how this last option will take shape and which strategy will be chief.

Anonymous said...

"how often do you see companies make an effort to tell people not to used their product?"
How many other companies sell products that, when used for their intended purpose, will kill the consumer?
We now see "drink responsibility" commericals paid for by liquor companies, "Captian Morgan says know when to say when". Casinos also have their "have a gambling problem" spiel. Several computer games have time limit options so you don't spend all night playing them.

"But given the public outcry that occurs when they lie for that purpose, or any purpose"
Unfortunately this public outcry doesn't last long or have much of an effect after a few months. If a credit card company lies about loosing user information or being hacked, there's not much of an outcry despite the seriousness of what happened. People only pay attention if it's dramatic like Firestone tires. Most of the time, people are mad for a little bit then go back to their usual habits. It takes alot to make a consumer leave a company without efforts from the competition.

When I listen to old radio shows, they work the ad into the program. The announcer and cast will do the pitch themselves. Today it may be too lame to try. Can you imagine watching your favorite show then having the star pause to say, "That's why I use Ben-Gay hemroid cream." then go back to the story.

Geiko commericals are funny, but none of them made me want to switch. Same with the viking raiders of Citibank. It may work for some people, but not me. But we see more commericals on TV. Some shows have done away with an opening theme because of it. This is probably a mistake. Unless you want to go to a PPV format, TV commericals will not be worth making.