Saturday, March 3, 2007

Different vs. Better: Worst Blinders Ever

We are genetically programmed to fear change. Period. I know this, you know it. It's OK. It makes sense. When you do something the same, you're less likely to be poisoned by a strange berry or wander into a dangerous alley and get the crap kicked out of you or marry someone who speaks a language you don't. Because of the predisposition, we almost always regard new stuff, different stuff, immediately as "bad," or at least "worse." Those who do it the other way will qualify it as "better," of course.

We have a hard time with "different." We're just too dang competitive. See "evolution," "professional sports," "org charts" and "last piece of pie."
Problem is, a natural inclination to regard "different" as immediately "worse" or "better" is not logical. And we end up defending our first inclination because, well... we like to be right rather than sensible. Or successful.

Shoshin, or "The Beginners Mind," is a Zen Buddhist concept that suggests we're better off always behaving as an appropriately open-minded amateur, rather than a "I know everything" professional. Shunryu Suzuki said, "In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, in the expert's mind there are few."

So... Let's have an example.

A recent Media Post "Online Publishing Insider" post titled, "Gobbledygoogle," talks about how the TV advertising industry shouldn't let Google sell "scatter" TV advertising; ie, the ads that are left over after the upfront. His point is basically that by letting Google in the door to sell to people that can't currently afford TV media, it will let in people who also can't currently afford to make good TV creative. His metaphor is that of high-priced real estate:

New Canaan, Conn. has one of the most exclusive Zip codes in the country. Residents include David Letterman, Paul Simon, and, ironically, Jeff Immelt, the CEO of General Electric. The town maintains its immense value because not everyone can afford to live there. Television is like New Canaan — not every advertiser can afford to live there. What Google fails to recognize as it tries to play in this neighborhood is that, while it does make it easier for advertisers to pay the mortgage, those same advertisers can’t afford to build a home. Google advertisers pay a buck or two a click to advertise on Google right now. How much money do you think they are going to spend on the production of a television ad?

This piece is, frankly, the best example of defending "different" as "worse" I've seen in awhile, and I am grateful. Because it really helps us see how change can frighten the bo-jangles out of us while keeping us from seeing, as Suzuki said, the many possibilities.

Rosenberg, the author of the Media Post piece, has seen one possibility -- that the same people that pay low dollars for pay-per-click search ads will pay the same dollars for pay-per-spot TV scatter... and (assumptions continue), that their creative will suck (more assumption) because (additional assumption) it will be similarly low-budget... AND (still more assumptions) viewers will cringe and turn away from badly produced ads. The number of assumptions in this chain of reasoning is quite impressive, and gives us lots of room to back up and behave like a proper beginner. And what does a proper beginner do? Ask questions. Smart questions. Lots of questions. Because questions lead to possibilities, and possibilities lead to more avenues to success. Questions we might ask about the, "Google TV ads will lead to great buckets of suck," conclusion:

  • Are all advertisers using Google ads that don't currently buy TV doing so because of lack of budget? Or are there other reasons? Could the logistical difficulties of spreading a decent ad budget over a national buy, but on local stations, or in tight verticals have been something that has kept advertisers out of that media? If I have a product that I sell, spread out, in 50 states, but don't have the time to negotiate local ad buys with 50-250 Tier 2 or Tier 3 stations... and I don't feel like paying a media buying service a huge cut to do that for me... is it a question of not having money? Or not having time or an appropriate tool for spreading my money appropriately?

  • Are we even talking about the same people? Google AdWords can appeal to mom-and-pop shops with ad budgets as low as $50-100/month. If your ad word campaign is specific enough, you can get good results. I don't think "cheap" in TV is ever going to be "cheap" in ad words. And the stations will still, clearly, get to set a basement on their prices, eh? We're not talking about a 30-second spot going for $11. So though Google will be doing the selling, and though they will be attracting an audience of advertisers that is "different" than some current TV advertisers, that doesn't mean they will be "different" in the same way that ad word advertisers are different front current TV advertisers. I suspect that there will be some overlap, yes... but that we'll find lots of current TV advertisers simply upping their levels and finding new places to put current creative. Which leads to...

  • Why must the creative be cheap simply because the media is cheaper? That's just a bad assumption. If I have X to spend on advertising, I may decide to blow 2/3 on the creative, in the hope that it goes viral. If the price for TV comes within my range, it may open the door into some creative production that we haven't seen before. Which leads to...

  • Since when does "big budget" = "good" in creative land? Land'a Goshen... Think of the worst TV ads you've ever seen, and my guess is that they all cost more than $200,000 to make. Jeez. And last time I looked, home-made, low-bud creative was taking the world by storm, eh? The Quizno's Spongmonkey ads kicked ass for them. And the production values were... uh... not there.

  • And even if the ads suck... Does that mean that viewers will turn away? That's the craziest part of this chain. Yeah. I'm watching a show that I like (probably on my DVR). And a bad ad (meaning most of them) comes on. I'm so turned off by the production values that I leave the station, never to return to the last 10 minutes of my show. Yeah. That'll happen. Here's the thing... If I'm watching one of the Big Four networks, I'm much more likely to be turned off by the low production values and fantastically bad writing of the local news team or an ad for a used car dealership down the road, which we've had for decades.

I have no idea if Google handling TV ad remainders would be good or bad for the industry. I'm not well versed enough in the details. But I know enough about how *not* to approach a new situation when it's just out of the gate. Don't make assumptions. Don't take one trail all the way from "what I like now" to "what will be the worst case scenario if one little thing changes." Don't confuse "different" with "worse."

And don't forget to ask lots of questions.

No comments:

Post a Comment