Monday, March 31, 2008

Brave new world of emerging media

You've got to choose between happiness and what people used to call high art"
-- Aldous Huxley

Lately, advertisers seem almost giddy at the prospect of all the new media channels available for selling product and creating brand images. Imagining all the ways digital media allows us to break out of flat spaces is a designer’s dream. Adweek highlighted the new Scion urban street displays, where passersby approaching the store window experience the cars moving further away. The Japanese are already masterful at using old and new digital media for short burst campaigns: the pop star Ayumi Hamasaki’s last concert featured a fleet of “tribute vans” each airbrushed with a different alluring image of Ayumi, tractor trailers wrapped with her album cover, and huge digital signs peppering the Tokyo skyline.

But those who venture into this Brave New World of Bluecasting, moving screens, and SMS often have trouble demonstrating how such venues will actually pay off in sales and profit. And then the biggest venues for marketing can complicate life with gate keeping techniques or worse, allowing your competitors to siphon off customers (think of the complaints about Google’s new “search within a search” feature.) Not only does it undermine a company’s ability to get to consumers first, but it can be counterintuitive. Like diet books advertised on a gourmet recipe page featuring molten chocolate cakes, if you don’t know the big Freudian question (what DO consumers want?) digital media can easily confuse or annoy rather than entice. Emerging channels are new to both the seller and the buyer. The savvy media campaign takes a line from Lou Reed and engages both sides in the “beginning of a great adventure.”

Companies need to get their feet wet with digital media, despite the uncertainty of its uses, especially to avoid those gate keeping measures and to establish brand identity in new venues. I don’t want a Scion (my dog, our daily muddy walks, and her serious furriness are better suited to something with a big washable hatchback. I’m so not Gen X or Y anyway…) but I’ve certainly been hyped at enough to know one when I see it. Scott Wensman claims that using emerging channels is more about developing an audience – and, most significantly, doing some solid consumer research to figure out what works. If emerging channels are going to evolve into the great advertising boon they’ve been hyped to be, advertisers are going to have to figure out how to sell product for people in lifestyle niches beyond teenagers, 20-somethings, and wannabes. While my 80 year old father might be enticed by a beautiful girl with a Red Bull LCD image on her chest, my 80 year old mother (who does all the shopping) would not. Show her an interactive video cookbook or a version of DDR with big band music, and you just might get her attention. Let her tell you what recipes to include or what songs she likes, and the technology gets sold along with the product.

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