About 30 years ago I published a book in which I hypothesized that the apparent breakdown of institutions and general profusion of bad judgments are the result of a single cause. Of course, it has gotten worse since then.
The single cause is information overload. I presented results of a model I had created indicating that the number of question-producing stimuli (that would create a P300 wave in the human brain) presented to the average human being per day had increased 50X over the prior 600 years. The introduction of the printing press was the initial trigger, followed by electronic media. When I wrote this I was among the <1% of the population using online services (IMS and Telmar) at the time, but in that book I made no prophecies about what the Internet would do – I kept that stuff for my newsletter.
In the last 30 years the increase has been palpable above the already-burdensome level of the mid-70s. Between the Internet and mobile devices many of us have gotten so sucked into tripletasking that it is almost as if the devices are aliens come here to take over our minds.
I submit that this mass level of distraction underlies our most visible failures as a group, and as individuals. In effect, we're all going crazy a little bit. It's like when you stress your computer with too many open applications and things start to break down. Which brings us to marketing.
We in the industry have the word "clutter," which we use to describe the noise that makes it harder for our own messages to get through. Clutter refers to too many commercials in a pod, too many commercials per hour, too many ads on a page, etc. That's the way we use the word. We don't usually think about all the other clutter against which our messages compete – the constant stream of thoughts and feelings going through consumers, the multitasking they are doing, etc.
The new ARF 360 Model is actually addressing that.
But what do we do in the meantime until the ARF publishes its next Model? There is actually one quick fix that is the low hanging fruit before us as marketers: improving the way we target TV beyond the outdated sex/age paradigm.
Last week an anonymous executive sent a letter to Jack Myers eloquently expressing his or her frustration at the underwhelming amount of attention paid by marketers to the pivotal question of targeting. The whole post is worth reading and may become a classic. It is available at the following link: http://www.jackmyers.com/commentary/jackmyers-think-tank/50123827.html. Here's an excerpt:
"That is so cool: deliver your message to every living adult, preferably most of whom are over 35, and watch sales soar. Ingenious. And, given the tons of consumer research available today, you have to assume Jack, that the selected target group was the result of a long and arduous process with discussions and focus groups lasting well into many a night. What lasted long into the night were discussions on creative, on packaging, on competitors and their (non) strategy and on many other subjects, most having little to do with the consumer target."
It's pretty obvious that we've lived too long with the sex/age simplified media buying targets that we are offered by traditional rating services. Fortunately those Opportunities To See can now be weighted by simple indices of purchase linked to programs measured by TRA and future competitors in U.S. singlesource who tie actual purchase behavior to set top box data.
Sex/age was a simplification to help deal with the information overload – but it was a gross oversimplification. Simplifications are definitely what are needed in this Age of Information Overload, but not sloppy ones. The TRA approach being pioneered right now by MediaVest and others in actual media buy negotiation is a different kind of simplification – the kind that is needed.
The Information Overload itself was heavily exacerbated by the Digital Age – and yet, the solution to the overload is also brought to use by the Digital Age, in the form of huge digital databases of set top box and purchase data that can be combined at the individual anonymous household level and rolled up into simple index weights to help guide buying.
TRA presented evidence at ARF two weeks ago, showing that there is a strong correlation between using programs that over-index on Heavy Swing Purchasers (HSPs – folks who are heavy category buyers and who have bought your brand disloyally), and ROI. At the same podium Mars, Inc. showed proof that its own TV ROI increased almost threefold as a result of using singlesource for targeting as well as for insight into which creative executions to take off the air.
Targeting in itself does not get us all the way to overcoming information overload, but if only a certain portion of messages get through, why not make sure that the bombardment at least is aimed at the right people to begin with?
Targeting is the quick fix. After we fix that, we can use singlesource and all of our other tools to improve the messages themselves. Since that is the part of the fix that will take the longest, why not do the targeting part quickly?
Tom Kehler, when he was at Informative/Satmetrix, pioneered scalable methods of getting consumers to interact with brands on the Internet, which functioned as great advertising and as data collection at the same time. Imagine using tools like that to talk directly to your own brand's Heavy Swing Purchasers so you find out what they really care about and how to talk to them. That's where it will all go in the long run. But in the meantime there's targeting. First find the HSPs and shift messageweight in their direction. Next year find ways to engage them in dialog interactively to improve your messages and launch some sponsorships. In the long run, marketing can adapt to be more effective in the information overload cloud.
Bill Harvey has spent over 35 years leading the way in the area of media research with special emphasis on the New Media. Bill can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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