He might not win another Nobel Peace Prize for it and it doesn’t rank with protecting the earth from global warming, but Al Gore may go down in history as the man who saved television advertising.
fact, as various cultural and technological phenomena come together -
social networking, user-generated content, the convergence of Internet
and television devices, and marketers’ need to reach audiences in the
face of fragmentation - the former Vice President may be remembered as
the man who saved television itself.
day after the Nobel committee announced its selection of Mr. Gore as
co-recipient of this year’s peace prize, the former Democratic
politician appeared as a central presenter at the Association of National Advertisers annual “Masters of Marketing” conference at the Arizona Biltmore near Phoenix.
Mr. Gore has been a ubiquitous presence on the media and marketing
conference circuit during the past several years. Most of the time, he
has used the platforms to promote to these influential audiences his
research and views on the dangers of climate change - the subject of
his Academy Award-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth. Indeed, just two days before his ANA appearance, he took the stage at the Google Zeitgeist conference in Mountain View, CA, to continue his campaign to influence the influencers on environmental degradation.
at ANA, his subject was, fittingly, advertising - and how to advance
it. “The fact is,” he told an audience of some 1,200 marketing, media,
and agency executives, “the old format of television advertising is
being questioned. A citizenry empowered with TiVo and remote controls
and Internet access has called into question how long the traditional
television model will deliver the service you marketers want it to
perform for you.”
He made a pitch for his own cable TV network, Current TV,
and the interactive properties built around. But unlike many sales
pitches at this and other conferences, his resonated with a large chunk
of the crowd. “We believe our model allows you, your companies, and
your brands to become a part of their conversation,” Mr. Gore said.
Spots Still Prevail
ex-Veep couldn’t have picked a better moment to address that audience.
For the entire previous day, the marketers had heard speaker after
speaker talk about the importance of inviting their consumers to
co-create their brands with them. They heard marketing chiefs from
across industries declare yet again that the era of one-way
communication is dead, that advertising is now a conversation, that
they had no choice but to harness interactive social media to their
companies’ causes, that they had to stand for something to stand out in
the cacophony of cultural conversations taking place through the Web.
For the many who had come to Phoenix
from the Google conference, it was déjà vu all over again. For those
who had attended IAB’s MIXX Conference in September, it was as if
Jiminy Cricket was riding their shoulders whispering the same message
repeatedly in their ears.
in each of the ANA case study presentations, the dominant format - the
overwhelmingly dominant format - deployed to illustrate the “new rules”
of advertising was the 30-second television spot. The audience cooed at
the emotional commercials and chuckled at the funny ones. But it was
difficult to spot the breakthrough format advances in anything other than the conversation.
was hard to avoid the conclusion that the marketers were merely talking
the talk, or, worse, acting pathologically - doing the same thing over
and over again in the insane belief that it would somehow yield a
The persistence of the one-way, 30-second spot format isn’t really surprising. A $65 billion industry,
employing hundreds of thousands of people, has been built around it in
the U.S.. It’s not only what so many of us know how to do; it’s what we
know how to react to. At the conference, I ran into Andrew Susman, CEO
of Studio One Networks, the
creator and syndicator of online and off-line multimedia content, and
asked him how he explained the dissonance between the calls for change
and the dearth of examples. Since I was carrying a new “Flip Camera,” a lightweight, palm-sized device that can record an hour of video on its flash drive, I captured his answer.
and agencies aren’t ignoring the disjunction between desire and action.
During Google’s Zeitgeist conference and the ANA meeting, I heard no
message more insistent from the agency and marketing execs than “help
us change.” Hundreds of people packed the auditorium and a subsequent
luncheon discussion of the joint IAB-AAAA-ANA-Booz Allen “Marketing-Media Ecosystem 2010” study,
which is all about driving change across the value chain. And several
signed up on the spot for the IAB’s “Interactive Boot Camp for Senior
Marketers,” which we announced at the ANA meeting.
The Veep’s V-CAM
among presenters, Al Gore was one of the few who offered an actual
innovative path to try change in real-time - “a way of relating the
Internet to television,” he said, that is more than “television sliced
and diced and spit out onto the Internet,” which is how he
characterized the current state of online video advertising.
TV is entirely premised on user-generated content, some of it socially
uplifting, as befits its political provenance, and some of it purely
entertaining. It’s a video aggregation site whose secret weapon is
active editing and collaborative filtering.
And that’s the innovation behind its V-CAM’s - the Viewer Created Ad Messages.
Yes, they are user-generated advertisements, just like those lured in
(to great incumbent media attention) by Dorito’s and dozens of other
brands over the past two years. But Current TV doesn’t program its
V-CAM’s as high-profile one-offs. Rather, they’re built into the fabric
of its Web site and its cable network, as much a part of the contextual
dynamic as the user-generated documentaries. Moreover, they are
constructed according to briefs drawn up by the marketers and, in many
cases, their agencies. Current even provides graphic and bumper
material to assure the spots are brand-compliant.
its V-CAM’s are “socially filtered,” as Mr. Gore put it, “by real live
human beings,” before being put online for judging by the community of
viewers. This assures their marketer friendliness. Although the former
Veep says the network has yet to receive a negative ad for any of V-CAM
advertisers (a roster that includes Toyota, L’Oreal, Mountain Dew, and
several others), he made a cogent case that marketers harm themselves
more by that fearfulness than they ever would be by their openness.
“It’s not as if it’s completely safe to continue with the cluttered
model we currently have, with all the consumer resistance built into
it,” he told ANA President and CEO Bob Liodice during the
much of the past two years, I’ve been seeing increasing evidence that
active editing and programming are meeting social media in a new blend,
one that provides protection for nervous advertisers while still
allowing the power of conversational media to cut through the clutter
of the Web and the interactive television “dial.” Current TV seems one
more bit of support. Mr. Gore says his company’s research shows that
viewers prefer V-CAM ads to traditional spots by a 9 to 1 margin.
ANA audience seemed to provide additional support. They cooed and oohed
at the lovely, animated Toyota Prius V-CAM, and erupted in laughter
over a clever T-Mobile V-CAM. A L’Oreal for Men V-CAM even received the
kind of spontaneous applause usually reserved for
Crispin Porter Bogusky television spots. True, agencies could look at
the V-CAM approach as yet another threat to their existing business
models. But from the professionalism of some of the work, it seems more
like a recruiting tool for the next generation of creative talent.
President Liodice asked Mr. Gore what he saw as the best practices
coming to light for consumer generated media. The Nobel Prize-winning
former pol replied:
“When I was in college, Marshall McLuhan was a touchstone. In his book Understanding Media,
he wrote a story of a swimmer caught in a whirlpool, swimming against
it, getting exhausted, and drowning. Going with the current is the
right model to get out of the whirlpool.
digital universe is in a swirl. Simply swimming against the flow can be
exhausting. We offer you a way to swim with the current, not with all
your inventory, but with enough that you can learn from your audience
what they want from you.”