The People ARE in Charge!

picardfacepalmOpinions from various corners of the television industry, when placed together, can often open a reader’s eyes to deeper truths about events challenging the broadcast and cable status quo. This is why I try to keep my eyes open for clues that light the path to tomorrow during my reading and study time. Today, I want to provide you with a classic example of this.

First, let’s go back to November of last year and a Mediapost article about the future of television. TV: Evolution or Revolution by Charlene Weisler is a nice overview, although it lacks anything really “new” or profound about what lies ahead. There is a quote in this article, however, that I find utterly fascinating. It comes from Joan Gillman, COO of Time Warner Cable Media. This is no foot soldier making this statement on behalf of TWC; this is a top, top-level executive:

“We have trained the consumers to consume media whenever and wherever they want, but what hasn’t caught up is the measurement.”

So basically, TWC believes that the people’s demand to explore media “whenever and wherever they want” was actually implanted in them by the cable giant. Really? This is pure poppycock and anybody with half a brain who’s been paying attention knows it. The people have FORCED media companies into providing them with the content THEY want when and where they want it. It takes a very special kind of arrogance to make the statement “we trained the consumers” when, in fact, the very opposite is true.

This is important, folks, because if you’re of a mind to be influenced by what Ms. Gillman says, you’re going to make mistakes, serious mistakes on the path ahead. For crying out loud, how can anyone so highly placed — at Time Warner Cable, of all places — not acknowledge the revolution of the people brought about by technological disruptions? Wow. It blows my mind.

Now let’s move over to an article from The Street Friday about, well, the future of television. Why Streaming Old Shows Could Backfire on Television Networks by Leon Lazaroff is a reaction piece to the Thursday announcement by Les Moonves in which “his network had signed a deal to license its super-show CSI to a U.S.-subscription-based video-on-demand service, known in the industry as SVOD.” The article contains this remarkable response by Bernstein analyst Todd Juenger from an investor note:

“We believe networks need to wean themselves off of SVOD (subscription video on demand) licensing, which we believe is the primary driver of the demise of ad-supported video consumption.”

Wait. What?

Here’s another seemingly intelligent human being (I mean the guy advises people on how to invest their MO-NEY) whose head is actually stuck up his backside. Really, Mr. Juenger? Get onboard the Cluetrain, for crying out loud.

What would happen if the networks actually TOOK this advice? Once again, anybody paying any attention can easily come to the correct answer: Bye-bye networks. Hello? The people are in charge today, as Jay Rosen first tagged them, “The people formerly known as the audience.” This moron actually thinks that people would climb back into the casket of viewing on somebody else’s schedule complete with commercials to pad the ride.


So here’s the point. Both of these quotes point to a self-deluded ignorance that has gone to seed. It’s rampant out there, folks! This is exactly why the industry is doomed to collapse under the weight of such ill-informed and ignorant leadership.

Repeat after me: The. People. Are. In. Charge! We need to be meeting their needs and not our own, for in pressing our needs first, we are guaranteeing ourselves an empty chair at tomorrow’s table.

Advertising Disrupted

Jack Trout and Al RiesAt the height of the Mad Men era — the year was 1969 — two New York ad men penned an idea that has driven advertising ever since. Al Ries and Jack Trout discovered and innovated the concept of “positioning,” and followed it up with articles and then a series of books that established methods of manipulating audiences through branding. Madison Avenue quickly responded, and the rest, as they say, is history.

But history evolves. Seasons end as easily as they begin, and the season of positioning is running into the realities of empowered consumers and what Jay Rosen calls the Great Horizontal. It cannot last, and those who pursue it and only it may well be left holding an empty bag.

Ries and Trout’s original book is still considered foundational to contemporary marketing. It was called “Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind.” Here’s a brief definition from the book:

Positioning…has revolutionized the way products are advertised. It’s the first body of thought to deal with the problems of communicating in our overcommunicated society. With this approach, a company creates a “position” in the prospect’s mind — one that reflects not only the company’s own strengths and weaknesses but those of its competitors as well.

Ries and Trout knew that this could be controversial, so they “positioned” it not as a form of advertising but as a form of communications, of which the examples chosen were from the advertising field.

And most of the examples are from the most difficult of all forms of communication—advertising. A form of communication that, from the point of view of the recipient, is held in low esteem. Advertising is, for the most part, unwanted and unliked. In some cases, advertising is thoroughly detested.

To many intellectuals, advertising is selling your soul to corporate America—a subject not worthy of serious study.

In spite of its reputation, or perhaps because of it, the field of advertising is a superb testing ground for theories of communication. If it works in advertising, most likely it will work in politics, religion, or any other activity that requires mass communication.

What’s never really discussed is the potential for mischief through deceit. The sneaky nature of it likewise assumes, up to a point, an ignorant mass, and that has a great potential to backfire.

There are two enormous problems with the whole concept today. One, mass marketing is increasingly problematic, for mass audiences are a dying breed. Oh, there are still events like the Superbowl and the Academy Awards that draw big audiences for advertisers, but now, even popular “second screen” activities get in the way by giving viewers something new to do during commercial breaks. Positioning just doesn’t do as well in a fragmented environment or in a network. Everybody functions as a media company in the network, so any “position” can be spread virally, especially if the product or service being positioned doesn’t work as advertised. Two, it’s hard to “position” somebody when they’re hip to being positioned (and don’t like it). Ries and Trout’s “The Battle for Your Mind” doesn’t ask for approval to wage war in such a private place, and this is its most challenging aspect, especially in a world where people can do something about it. The idea of waging war in our minds was advanced in Ries and Trout’s second book, aptly named “Marketing Warfare.” The rude assumption that enough money buys a ticket to play war in the battlefield of the mind is revealed for what it is, a self-centered effort at human manipulation.

What the leader owns is a position in the mind of the prospect. To win the battle of the mind, you must take away the leader’s position before you can substitute your own.

Good luck with that in a world of equal nodes on a vast network.

One of the problems with this business is that it relies on tolerance as the measurement of what “works” and what doesn’t. The assumption of tolerance is a dangerous proposition in a world where people are actually able to not tolerate, and one would hope that this is troubling to Madison Avenue.

Nearly ten years ago, Umair Haque wrote that the best marketing for tomorrow would be the product itself, and that business resources would be better used in product improvement instead of marketing about products. In other words, positioning and all that fancy Madison Avenue footwork won’t “move” people to like something of poor value that simply doesn’t work. In a network, business is helped by people talking to and sharing with each other, because the idea of a “mass” audience is blown apart in a network. The best position, therefore, is one of reliable quality. People may pass around fads for a season, and perhaps enough to make a difference, but people in general today tend to not be easily switched, and especially when the attempt is through old-fashioned mass marketing.

Positioning, however, is Madison Avenue’s lifeblood. Starting with research, the smart marketer can determine what it is that people are seeking from whatever product is being researched. From this data, sophisticated campaigns can be created to help move the product, either by shifting the brand in the minds of consumers or by creating an entirely new brand. Some are better at this than others, and so much of advertising’s pecking order is based on success stories brought about by Ries and Trout strategies and tactics. Success, of course, is determined by how the concept impacted sales, not by how it impacts people. Corporate America marches onward, while the recipients of the marketing magic are unaware that they’ve been shifted, or so the thinking goes. Again, contrary to what the advertising world would have us believe, what the people in today’s network think matters. Tolerance, again, is a poor measuring stick.

If Madison Avenue is to thrive in tomorrow’s universe, it will have to find a replacement for positioning, but mostly, it’ll have to find a replacement for trickery and deception. Until that happens, however, there’s simply too much money at stake to even begin to entertain the idea that contemporary communications is at odds with advertising’s practices. The first thesis in the network’s seminal book The Cluetrain Manifesto is “Markets are conversations,” and there are plenty of people playing with concepts of conversational marketing. Marketing in the network is and will always be one-to-one instead of one-to-many. Consider a party. Which is more likely to produce success, signs on the walls of the party or direct communications with individual party-goers. This is the conundrum for advertising, circa 2013.

Above all, corporate America — the target of everything Ries and Trout — has to stop insulting the very people who support it through purchasing the products and services it makes. This sounds so logical, and yet it’s not even top-of-mind with those who practice the selling of what America makes.