I talked with a smart panel on The Beancast again, this time the theme was how much bunk is out there in marketing study land.
What do YOU do on your phone during TV ads? We tackled Facebook’s assertion that TV viewers turn to them during commercial breaks, the hurdles facing people-based marketing, overcoming voting blocs at Cannes, and the effectiveness of brand takeovers on Twitter (I say not effective at all). Also, why Canada at Cannes is like the 1988 Jamaican Olympic bobsled team in Cool Runnings, and Travis Kalanick is a narcissistic frat boy. (Not mentioned on the show but worth noting: Sarah Lacy at Pando has been calling out Uber‘s problematic culture with little notice since 2012).
Howard Gossage believed that most of the advertising of his time was manure. The Socrates of San Francisco died more than forty years ago, but his radical approach is as important now as ever.
Gossage was irreverant, inquisitive, and creative. At a time when agencies encouraged increasing media buys for their own profit, Gossage worked on quality over quantity, and even instructed some clients to reduce their ad budgets. He eschewed TV. He helped launch the environmental movement. David Ogilvy called him “the most articulate rebel in the advertising business.” Gossage was an iconoclast and proponent of using advertising to effect social change. He cared more about ideas than media.
When Gossage was in the ad business in the late 1950s and sixties, you could reach 85% of the U.S. with three TV networks and four publications. The options for sharing information and stories were a tiny fraction of modern media, but HLG was a prescient proponent of interactivity. His most important principle will outlast this month’s shiny new marketing toys:
Respect Your Audience
Gossage was talking about conversation long before Twitter. Our age is one of digital marketing buzzwords that mean little beyond having secured standing room on a crowded bandwagon, of an obsession with social media too often devoid of strategy and technique. Now we have tools that make the conversation more convenient and immediate, but this has made us lazy.
Tired of reading articles about how to “measure the ROI of social media”? Quit reading them. Turn off your phone, sit down (better yet, stand up) and take the time to write interesting copy, inform, incite. Spell check.
Client: Petrofina Oil
Gossage transformed a pedestrian category, gasoline, with a campaign that directly acknowledged that most service stations were identical, while satirizing “advertisingese”:
Fina didn’t pretend to be your friend or solve your problems. Fina acknowledged reality in a conversational way. Fina sold petrol.
Ask customers about their pain points then speak to those negatives in a new or helpful light. Brands aren’t people: brand messages that seem personal simply because they begin with an @ still must offer some value, honesty, or fun if you want the audience to care, participate, or purchase.
Unlike the above ads typical of his time, Gossage based his work on the belief that the consumer deserved to be treated with some modicum of respect. Ogilvy agreed: “The consumer isn’t a moron, she is your wife” (1955). Gossage went a step further with campaigns like the one that saved the Grand Canyon from being flooded:
His point, recalled by then partner Jerry Mander, was this: “You can’t just make people feel bad, you have to give them an opportunity to do something.”
Direct, honest, creative messaging that acknowledges the realities of the transactional relationship beats a feigned or forced friendship and unrealistic promises. It was true in the sixties and it’s true today, especially on social.
We relish our digital two-way street, opine about the “conversation” until its terminology has become hackneyed, yet many brands still turn off customers with their attempts at tone. Before you hit “send,” ask yourself if the message is interesting and real, or simply, WWGD?
Do you think Skyler White is a total buzzkill on Breaking Bad? Do you full out hate Skyler? “…Male characters don’t seem to inspire this kind of public venting and vitriol.” In an 8/23/13 op-ed for the New York Times, Anna Gunn, who portrays Walter White’s wife, discussed what’s behind the vocal public contempt for Skyler, which has blurred into “loathing” and even death threats against the actress. Skyler White – I Have a Character Issue – NYT
Anna Gunn’s op-ed explores why viewers are so quick to hate TV wives like Skyler, Carmela Soprano, and Betty Draper while their husbands, the protagonists, commit crimes against humanity, cheat, lie, manipulate, and endanger their families, but rarely inspire such “homicidal rage” toward the Don Draper/Walter White types or the actors who play them. Anna Gunn’s article made me rethink why I used to see her character as a killjoy, annoying, or a nag as she’s been pegged.
Gunn makes an excellent point by complimenting Vince Gilligan and the Breaking Bad writers for painting an ever-evolving Walter White as complex and likable “despite his moral failings.” And yes, there is “a natural tendency to empathize with and root for [a show’s protagonist].” Still, the fact that everyone so loves the “deeply flawed yet charismatic genius” that is Walter speaks to the highly skilled storytelling that has earned Breaking Bad titles like “best show ever.” Maybe the writers of these top dramas aren’t making the wives likable enough. Maybe it’s a learned, default cultural interpretation of wives as automatically antagonistic to our beloved, flawed male protagonists. Regardless, this is an important conversation because our society is consumed with and influenced by media now more than ever:
“American teenagers spend 31 hours a week watching TV, 17 hours a week listening to music, 3 hours a week watching movies, 4 hours a week reading magazines, 10 hours a week online. That’s 10 hours and 45 minutes of media consumption a day.
Women hold only 3% of clout positions in the mainstream media (telecommunications, entertainment, publishing and advertising).
53% of 13 year old girls are unhappy with their bodies. That number increases to 78% by age 17.”
In the documentary Miss Representation (click to watch), filmmaker Jennifer Siebel Newsom exposes disturbing realities about how women are portrayed by the media and “under-represented in positions of power and influence.” Newsom demonstrates the relationship between the lack of powerful women (characters or real ones) depicted by the media and entertainment industry and the lack of female leaders in politics, business, etc. In summary: “You can’t be what you can’t see.” -Marian Wright Edelman
There are TV shows with strong, likable female leads, but nowhere near as many as those with male leads whose adoration by viewers exemplifies an obvious double standard given the wider range of character traits, flaws, age, and physical appearance in male leads. This is one reason I love shows like Lena Dunham’s Girls on HBO and Jenji Kohan’s Orange is the New Black on Netflix.
One aspect of Miss Representation that relates to television and marketing is the business of commercials. Essentially, brands want to advertise on content that mirrors their messaging. Marketing is about making consumers uncomfortable: if you instill in a consumer a sense of urgency that they need a product to make themselves better, happier, sexier, smarter, younger, prettier, richer, etc. then you’ve caught their attention. In general, TV shows are written to reflect their advertisers’ brand values and messaging so that they will keep advertising to an insecure consumer. Characters and storylines often perpetuate the beliefs that make viewers insecure, i.e., better consumers.
Media companies, networks, advertising conglomerates, and ad agencies are male-dominated financially, philosophically, and visually – pure numbers. While the Skyler White conversation has many variables, it’s important to keep the undeniable reality of our gendered media in mind when deciding whether you think Skyler hatred is a symptom of a larger cultural problem or is simply the result of storytelling in the modern age, where character-bashing is more public online.