Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Media before message?

The IAB reports today that internet advertising spend has overtaken TV.

What a long journey it has been to get to this point. Personally, I think the final destination is much further (which tells us a lot about the future of TV - it will become a primarily on-demand medium, with broadcast merely a loss leading way to market its own content).

Of course, we don't spend as much time online as we do watching TV. But that's not the point. As a connection moment - in particular the ability to target and to engage - the internet is a superior medium.

Interestingly Nielsen data in the US shows that we increasingly consume several media at once - such as watching TV while online. That's certainly how most of the grocery shopping happens in my household. On those moments a relevant click is going to be far more effective than a haphazard TVC, no matter how great its production values.

But if we're making the right decisions with our investment of media time, are we getting the creative we deserve? How many ideas are still born as scripts? I bet it is more than 50%.

Newsflash 20:35, October 7
Three little updates hot on the heels of publishing this.
1) On 2nd October the Evening Standard announced it is to become a freesheet
2) Over the weekend it was confirmed that no-one is wants the TV rights to the England-Ukraine game, so it will be offered on internet pay per view only.
3) Yesterday the Economist told readers that it is to raise its 'paywall' - i.e. to restrict online access further in favour of paying subscribers.

The game is inconsequential and its a fire sale after the collapse of Setanta, so we should read little in to that: but its a precedent regardless. The Evening Standard's move (there's a whole backstory around London freesheets) is more interesting. They believe increased circulation is worth more in ad revenue than the loss in cover sales. I wonder, from an advertiser's perspective, whether this is true. More eyeballs may not be better eyeballs, so I'm not sure how much more I'd be willing to pay for them. Or maybe its just about increasing the number of advertisers, which merely dilutes the impact for each one. What's really fascinating is that this happens in the same week the Economist moves the opposite direction. All 3 moves are not entirely voluntary, but driven by financial pressures from the economic crisis. Strange, unpredictable, contrary forces.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Into the Black

Blacks, the outdoor store, has placed its O'Neill stores in administration and confirmed it will default on its debts. I would be sad to see Blacks go bankrupt. I've spent a lot of time there, planning treks and adventures. And I don't think there's an obvious alternative to them on the high street.

What can we learn from their predicament? Their website describes their portfolio thus:
The Outdoor Group comprises Millets and Blacks, the largest outdoor retailers in the UK, and Freespirit and Mambo, the leading retail chains in the newly emerging UK boardwear market
With the benefit of hindsight, this 'newly emerging' market (acquired with the Millets stores in 1999) was a bad punt for Blacks, for two reasons:

Blacks was vulnerable to economic downturn (they struggled very badly in the 1980s). Boardwear, more fashion/fad conscious and with a younger target market, exaggerated that risk. Blacks needed an anti-cyclical arm. It should have been well placed to develop one, but instead it has let brands such as Argos and Go Outdoor open up share in the 'value' end of the camping market.

Secondly, despite appearing to be a logical stretch, boardwear was maybe a step too far from the core - different product and different consumer simultaneously. Was there ever sufficient (real) capability leverage to give Blacks a robust advantage there?

Either vanity, or the promise of a fast buck, led them in the wrong direction. How many of us can claim we wouldn't do the same? For the sake of all our vanities, I hope Blacks survives.

Friday, September 04, 2009

More than mere meerkats

Its nice to come out of the 'holiday season' (here’s hoping you enjoyed yours) with so many positive column inches in the business press. Though September’s historic track record is not good. As if to remind us of that, the month began with a textbook lesson in collateral damage. When even the growing and profitable lowcost airlines easyJet and Ryanair are feeling the squeeze, it was little surprise that a flick of the travel industry tail knocked Samsonite’s retail operation into Chapter 11. But it’s more timely to focus on winners. Even the good people of Lymington are embracing pound stores – much to the surprise of the Telegraph. Though as I walked the less affluent areas of Manchester this week (a bit of informal consumer research), it was noticeable that empty retail units are not snapped up so quickly when discount stores and pawnbrokers already dominate the street. The rise of the discounter may be a little over-hyped?

Another winner, on a more creative note, is the meerkat campaign for which has put the comparison sites into a panic. It’s a great campaign because it lodges the brand name firmly in the mind. All the more impressive because it is such an unprepossessing url when compared to or It reminds me of the creatively great ads for in the original dotcom boom. Though the end of that tale was that was sold and eventually the name was dropped. A great campaign can only temporarily cover up for lack of a good strategy. I wonder if the comparison sites have learnt anything from that?

comparethemarket should be focused on turning their 15 minutes of fame into a property that is not just dependent on the quality of the next execution. Even good ideas wear out, and the most recent meerkat ad already feels as though it is going in that direction. Aleksandr Orlov has a Facebook page and YouTube bloopers (but then, don’t we all) – but they need to take this much, much further. Sponsor the zoo… Get Aleksandr a column in the Sunday Money section… They’ve probably got less time than they realise in which to do it. Googling ‘meerkat’ already returns links for both moneysupermarket and confused.

The whole category urgently need to address the challenge of establishing distinctive propositions. At the moment there’s only really a category proposition. Compare (when in Rome!) the headers of their various websites:
Compare the Market - Cheap Car Insurance
Let Compare the Market search a range of car insurance policies, to make sure you get the best deal possible.

Compare cheap loans, mortgages and credit cards and apply online. Home & car insurance quotes.
Cheap car insurance, home insurance and utilities quote comparison service. Search major providers and compare quotations to find the deal for you.

uSwitch - Cheap Gas & Electricity, Car Insurance, Loans & Mortgages
Save Money on Gas & Electricity, Car Insurance, Loans, Mortgages, Broadband Providers & Credit Cards. Free & Impartial, Search Switch & Save with uSwitch.
Cost? Convenience? Features? What is it, and why is your site substantively better at it? I despair if, as seems likely, the collective response of the competitors is to re-pitch their creative work. Expecting the agency to answer the fundamental question? A step backwards to the old arms race. (Though the Peter Jones ads for moneysupermarket are certainly bad enough to warrant dropping them immediately). I’ve read several financial columns in the last week lamenting that, despite all the talk a few months back of remodelling the global financial system, the upcoming Pittsburgh G20 will basically offer us more of the same. Now the panic is subsiding, it's so much less difficult to revert to the old ways and harder to change. If that happens, the politicians and economists will have failed. If marketing continues with the old shout-and-promote model, we will have failed too.