Upfronts 2015: Drowning by Numbers? – Markus Gull, Gull Gotham

By Thought Leaders Archives
Cover image for  article: Upfronts 2015: Drowning by Numbers? – Markus Gull, Gull Gotham

Prepping for the 2015 Upfronts, every network will be busy hammering away at numbers in order to promise advertisers the most eyeballs to put their commercials in front of. That somehow reminds me of the 1988 Cannes award-winning Peter Greenaway film, “Drowning by Numbers.” The movie is about a grandmother, her daughter and her niece, each of them guilty of drowning her husband, and the coroner who attempts to cover up these crimes. As a rhetorical device, director Greenaway uses the rules of games, repetition and, as the title suggests, the counting of numbers. Repeating, sticking to rules, counting numbers and finally drowning -– except for being knocked off by the leading ladies rather than donning cement shoes they put on themselves -— this serves as an apt metaphor for what the intertwined media and advertising businesses have been doing for decades.

Has anyone noticed that this persistent pursuit of numbers, the hunt for more contacts, eyeballs or better click-through-rates, the frantic gathering of big data, and manically targeting people to catch them while they look the other way is one of the main reasons, if not the only one, they actually are looking the other way? Let’s be frank, whining about losing advertising contacts is nothing more than incessant quacking and pussyfooting around the inconvenient truth. According to Albert Einstein, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Folks, we have to radically change our methods, or else! We have to stop counting, repeating and sticking to the old rules or we too will be drowning by numbers.

Developing a radical new way to understand how brands and people interact, new methods of how to approach audiences and how to measure efficiency is the only sensible response to the equally radical changes in the media landscape and the incurable ad-allergy that afflicts more and more people each day and is spreading like a pandemic. And not without good reason! If advertising was meant to seduce people in the best way, somewhere along the road it turned into stalking. In the history of relationships there’s not a single known case where stalking ignited a lasting rapport.

Is there anyone out there, sitting in front of his first, second or whatever screen, not waiting impatiently for the “skip ad” button to appear? (In other words: to make your pre-roll ad eventually disappear!) Is any precisely targeted teenager out there not dissing the f-ing ad intruding her playlist on Spotify? Please, don’t play the brand awareness and impact card. Everyone is aware of food poisoning and it has real impact, but who wants it? Yes, brands are spending enormous amounts of money to be hated.

We have only the methods to measure media efficiency we have, and everyone is working toward their goals, hoping to avoid mistakes but actually committing them in this way. And it’s getting worse. The methods of measurement, the way in which media plans are set up, and how advertising is created and spread just don’t work the way they once did. There’s one simple reason for this: The Internet changed everything fundamentally but our methods didn’t budge an inch. As a direct consequence, companies lost control over their communications and don’t own their brands anymore. People took over, whether we like it or not, or whether it works out the way we intended or not -- think #LikeAGirl, think #MakeItHappy. That’s what I call The Butterfly Effect meets a big Catch 22.

As long ago as the early ‘60s, the late Bill Bernbach put it: “This business of trying to measure everything in precise terms is one of the problems today. This leads to a worship of research. We’re all concerned about the facts we get and not about how provocative we can make those facts to the consumer.” It’s common knowledge these days, so let’s apply it, but first let me add this to Mr. Bernbach’s quote: “ … and not about how to communicate relevance so people will spend quality time with our brand.”

When we developed our audience- and story-centered brand building method, Hero Branding® – Brands Make Heroes, at a very early stage we found out four major truths about how to engage people with brands rather than scaring them off:

1. The story can never be about the brand, it must always be about the audience.
2. The brand is not the hero, the brand has to make its user the hero.
3. In the havoc (aka media landscape) we are in, the only precious reward a brand can get from its audience is quality time.
4. To get quality time with its audience(s) a brand has to be relevant, which means … (see #1).

Every brand has to define what relevance means for its audience, which is never one single item and is seldom the same as for another brand. Relevance is the ignition spark for creating multifaceted Immersive Communications Campaigns. Using this method, recognizing the endless opportunities in how people use media today, a brand can reach more and even new audience groups than it can with a traditional approach.

At the same time we need to develop methods to redefine the efficiency of marketing communication, measuring relevance and quality time with brand. No one said that this would be easy. If anyone is looking for an easy way, I highly recommend continuing to stick with the past and drown by numbers. The good news is that won’t take long.

Thought leader and disruptor Markus Gull is a veteran storysmith, brand architect, content producer and creative director equally at home in the communication and entertainment sectors. He is the creator of the trailblazing brand building method, Hero Branding® – Brands Make Heroes. His New York City-headquartered company, Gull Gotham, works with clients to identify and elevate their brand story to engage people in an ongoing relationship beyond advertising. www.gullgotham.com

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