Monday, March 27, 2006

Mobile content may be for early adopters now. Is it for anyone else later?

Countless hours have been passed at media and wireless companies by smart people trying to gauge the payoff on mobile content. If you're the CEO of a media or a wireless company, you can't afford to let your outfit sit on the sidelines while everyone else is taking a run at gathering up ears and eyeballs. Better to make sure you're in the game than to stay out, lose later and be summarily axed for your lack of vision.

Since I'm not a media or wireless company CEO (and shockingly, not on any short lists for current openings), I'll take a stab at the long-term impact of mobile content. As usual, it will be completely devoid of any empirical data or scientfically valid research and rely entirely on my gut instinct and zest for public debate.

My gut says mobile content will be a marginal play. Sure, there will always be people who do insane things such as, say, commute for two hours from the Pennsylvania to work in New York City. They might watch and listen to all kinds of mobile content. But that's not a huge group and a good chunk of them will choose sleeping over video or audio. Of course, there's also all of those kids — oh, those meddling kids — who are sharing mobile content with friends as easily as they chat on IM. There is no question that this audience likes mobile content. But they also loved camera phones, too. Today, I sense a lot fewer kids are saying cheese while their friend holds up a Samsung than a year ago.

But I still think we're going to see digital hubs — the computer as entertainment center — and not on-the-go entertainment, dominate. Consider podcasts. At first, all the buzz was about people listening to them on their iPods, but it turns out we're all more likely to play them on our computers. Even in our ADD world, we still like to sit down and take something in.

For most people, mobile content takes too much effort. A media hub appeals to our lazy, disorganized selves. My bet is on sloth.

You can find some actual research on the subject here. Those numbers, at this point in the game, still seem awfully low to me.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Actors unions and a new contract for advertising work.

Once again, it's time for contract talks between the actors union and the ad industry. This is one time when I'm definitely going to side with my industry.

Back in 2000, the SAG/AFTRA strike created a few headaches for every agency, including mine. Everyone wants A-1 talent in their commercials.

But on the positive side? People realized that Vancouver, New Zealand and Argentina are awfully nice places to go for a shoot— getting a world perspective beyond the borders of L.A. was healthy, too. Lazy creatives could not call in a celebrity to hide the fact their campaign was bereft of a genuine idea. And a few hard-working copywriters picked up some checks for VOs.

I think the actors unions have their heads up, well, you know where I think they have their heads. Agencies and advertisers are not in the mood to handle the administrative challenges of complicated compensation, cutting checks every time someone in the world downloads a piece of video onto their cell phone. We're also not feeling all that great about 13-week pay cycles for actors who are still a step below a role on, say, Joey.

I'm all in favor of people being compensated fairly for their work. But commercials are not movies or even TV shows. Actors don't "carry" commercials. They don't send people rushing to make a purchase. Sure, good ones help make things memorable. But the best commercials are rarely dependent on an actor delivering a performance that no one else possibly could.

Yes, I do have genuine respect for the actor's craft. Few things are more enjoyable than that moment in a tedious casting session, right about the time you're ready to curl up in the fetal position because you're starting to believe your idea is awful, when an actor nails it. I'll admit that it's great.

But we're not talking about Phillip Seymour-Hoffman here, folks. I've also seen plenty of B-level actors nail it in the casting session and be hopelessly lost two days later on the set. That's when it's easier to feel good about whatever you're paying the director and the editor.

Anyway, I'd rather see agencies go with non-union talent than give in to the demands of the waiters — sorry — the actors. One-time payments should be the route. Show up, do the job and you'll be paid reasonably for it. If something gets played on a billion cell phones, consider it good PR for your acting career. Figure that your commercial work is like advertising yourself for a movie part.

After all, once actors are movie stars, they don't take many calls from ad agencies.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

We don't consume. We choose.

I'm usually not one to get hung up on semantics, but one of the marketing terms I've long disliked is CONSUMERS.

Sure, I have tossed the term around like my favorite football in all kinds of meetings. I've dutifully read dull research that referred to something hopelessly broad like CONSUMERS 18-35 — and then nodded off. Sometimes, I even mentioned a powerful CONSUMER brand.

I was weak.

Yes, CONSUMER is just a term. But I think it's one of those casual identifiers that further distances marketers and communications professionals from their audience. It's as if we use it to convince ourselves the world is chock full of nameless individuals who constantly forage the planet for toothpaste and crackers and spandex athletic gear.

They're gluttonous, we think. Unrelenting. Insatiable. If we put it out there, surely those damn CONSUMERS will eventually gobble it up. After all, isn't that what these people — these people who inhabit any part of the earth where things can be purchased — are here to do?

For a long time, I simply tried to use the word PEOPLE. Now I believe companies would do well to replace CONSUMERS with something else: CHOOSERS.

Everyone can choose to buy your product or service, someone else's or just stick with our current foul-smelling spandex athletic gear. Sure, we will run out of toothpaste, but we might be convinced to go with some new herbal tooth and gum oil. While we will eat all the crackers, we may replace them with a loaf of multi-grain.

CHOOSERS watch your commercial or ignore it. We all know what most are doing these days.

CHOOSERS sample a different automotive brand if they decide their dealer has a mediocre service department.

CHOOSERS decide that a new putter will lower their scores. Or refuse to believe such nonsense.

If marketing organizations started to talk about CHOOSERS instead of CONSUMERS (or, for that matter, some Prada-wearing account planner's term such as, say, URBAN INDIVIDUALIST or GLOBAL CITIZEN — I have witnessed much pain and suffering inflicted upon helpless creative by both of these monikers), better solutions would undoubtedly surface.