“Mobile advertising is completely broken. It is total shit.”
These were the opening words of Damien Patton, founder and CEO of Banjo, as he kicked off the Mobile Advertising session at SXSW Interactive.
His point was that mobile advertising is fundamentally different than broadcast advertising, but that marketers keep on trying to treat it like broadcast. The resultant mess of misguided strategies and irrelevant metrics has resulted in mobile advertising that is ineffective at best and highly annoying at worst. Worse yet, marketers know this, but continue to do it anyway.
Mobile as a platform is about context and relevance. It’s a personal device, not a shared medium. It’s not just something we just watch – it’s something we used to get things done. It can communicate context — location, intent, interests. Yet marketers mostly insist on treating it like a broadcast tool, measuring campaigns by reach and frequency, and devising new ways to interrupt you with a message — even while knowing that if you interrupt somebody on their phone, it usually just pisses them off.
It’s a great point. More interesting, though, was the response in the room. Paraphrasing only slightly:
“I understand what you’re saying, and I know it’s not that effective, but don’t you understand the game? This is what advertisers want. It’s what they ask for. It’s what they’re willing to pay for. So this is how we sell it. Don’t you understand the game?”
Fans of “the game” in the room made their presence known, cheered this on, and asked the same question several times in different words. Basically, get rid of the dude who is trying to stir the pot, and let us get back to our business.
It was a <facepalm> moment.
Damien’s real point, I’d like to believe, was only partially about the tactic of mobile advertising.
The real point ties to a bigger question that’s increasingly asked in marketing circles: Why aren’t more marketers doing marketing that is actually … USEFUL?
Useful Marketing vs. The Game of Marketing
Marketing is a disrupted discipline right now. It has always been an inexact science, only now with the advent of digital and greater amounts of data, the science is getting better.
And that means we’re starting to find out that some of the tactics marketers most liked in the past are no longer the most effective. And this makes people angry.
In February, I saw Carol Davidsen, currently CEO of Cir.cl and past member of the Obama for America data team, explain how they used data science to discover that TV, long the go-to target for political campaign media spending, wasn’t the best way to reach persuadable voters. They re-directed their resources elsewhere go get more bang for their buck. It’s been one of many factors cited for helping President Obama win a close election.
It was a great insight, based in fact. I tweeted about it. And it made some people angry. TV stations, including the TV station owned by the company I work for, depend on those political dollars. Don’t you understand the game?
As SXSW started, the big topic everybody was talking about was WhatsApp. Hugely expensive startup acquisitions — WhatsApp was acquired by Facebook for $19 billion a few weeks before the conference — are always a big topic at SXSW. To make it even spicier, co-founder Brian Acton was turned down for a job at Facebook in 2009. That counts as People magazine-level gossip for tech nerds.
More interesting for me, though, was this, on WhatsApp’s site, about why they don’t take advertising:
No one wakes up excited to see more advertising, no one goes to sleep thinking about the ads they’ll see tomorrow. We know people go to sleep excited about who they chatted with that day (and disappointed about who they didn’t). We want WhatsApp to be the product that keeps you awake… and that you reach for in the morning. No one jumps up from a nap and runs to see an advertisement.
Advertising isn’t just the disruption of aesthetics, the insults to your intelligence and the interruption of your train of thought. At every company that sells ads, a significant portion of their engineering team spends their day tuning data mining, writing better code to collect all your personal data, upgrading the servers that hold all the data and making sure it’s all being logged and collated and sliced and packaged and shipped out… And at the end of the day the result of it all is a slightly different advertising banner in your browser or on your mobile screen.
Remember, when advertising is involved you the user are the product.”
The defense for proponents of “The Game” usually boils down to “this is how we get paid!” WhatsApp just sold for $19 billion dollars. Does this sound like somebody who is playing “the game” or focusing on what works? Did they get paid?
The Amplitude of Derp
Frustration in marketing over those who just “play the game” isn’t new, but as a theme it escalated last year.
2013 saw the release of a trio of thematically linked books by high profile marketing bloggers who circled the topic. Mitch Joel’s Ctrl Alt Del and Jay Baer’s Youtility both made the argument that smart marketers will start to replace interruptive, mass advertising (even though it still has power) with marketing materials that people actually find useful, because useful marketing, given the nature of digital, will just plain be more effective (“Marketers: Why No Marketing in Your Marketing?”). Brian Solis, in WTF: What’s the Future of Business, argued that businesses need to spend a lot less money on advertising and promotion, and a lot more on creating product and service experiences that are, you know, GOOD. He goes on to argue that in this new era of networked (as opposed to bullhorn) media, a great product or service experience has the power to be its own promotion.
While each book contained lots of useful(!) information on how to actually do useful marketing, each also felt born out of a sense of frustration. The reasons marketing needs to change aren’t rocket science, each argued – they’re just common sense.
Kristina Halvorson brought that frustration to a head in her epic, ranting presentation at SXSW, “Go Home Marketing You’re Drunk.” Her target was the marketing industry, specifically the marketing industry’s tendency to “go apeshit” over the next new marketing tactic — whether that be social, or native advertising, or content marketing, or whatever — regardless of whether the tactic fits the business problem or causes a real result.
“Derp” is internet slang for, basically, acting stupid. At her raging crescendo, after piles of horrifunny evidence, Halvorson said that marketers have reached their moment of “Peak derp.” (Which caused the techie-oriented marketing crowd in the room to erupt.)
And she’s right.
“The game” needs to change from “how marketers get paid” to “how marketers create value.” Shift to more effective tactics. Be useful.
And if you, as a marketer, don’t want to take up the cause … that’s fine. Because one of the truths of disrupted markets is that, eventually, the market realizes there are better ways to get things done. Better ways to spend marketing dollars. Ways that look like they’re on the fringe now, but that rapidly become the mainstream. And the market moves on. “The Game” changes. Whether you want it to or not.