Fuck, I'm pissed off. Yesterday’s conference was awful in its repetitious quality. Maybe I went too soon after reading Brave New World. Like all of them always are, it was about Engagement – Audience Engagement, that is, and how to both measure it and create it. That’s pretty self-explanatory, right? Advertisers want a way to figure out how much money should be payed for such and such an ad’s ability to create an emotional or ‘engaging’ relationship between a potential consumer and a potential buy – that is, a relationship ‘engaging’ enough that the viewer will go out and buy the product advertised.
People don’t shut their bloody faces about this because television advertising used to work (and still works to a certain degree) on the Reach and Response model. That is, advertisers pay for the number of people they think they are showing their ads to by advertising on such-and-such a channel at such-and-such a time (which is why we have things like Nielsen ratings to measure show’s viewership), and in an airy-fairy hypothetical type way for the number of people who will probably go out and buy the product.
Obviously the Reach and Response model has some big problems. It was invented back in the 1950’s, when you could ‘reach’ 85% of the North American market by advertising on a total of three shows. Now even basic cable packages offer such a plethora of themed choice that audiences have become segmented, particular, grouped in new ways.
And this is what is getting people’s nipples in a twist about Engagement. For media buyer types its important because it’s just common sense that advertisers are going to push for new buying models now – wanting to advertise during a particular show, for example, rather than a particular time slot, making things like sponsorship and aggressive product placement more important.
What’s driving me to distraction is the degree to which Engagement is being taken over the top by both advertising creatives and executives – creatives because they want to build a special media identity for the brand they’re advertising, and executives so that they can find a flattering measure letting clients know how great the ad is and how many millions upon millions of dollars the advertising agency deserves for making it. The problem with both takes-over-the-top, the big fucking rabid elephant in the room that’s steadfastly ignored at all these fucking conferences, is that advertising probably doesn’t work that well, or certainly not in this ‘engagement’ sense.
Consumers buy products because something sets that product apart from competing brands and makes it unique; be it the appearance, the functionality, a low price, ease of access, or things like that. Red Bull’s ‘guerrilla marketing’ campaign, which everyone is always jizzing themselves over, had the effect of making Red Bull a lot more accessible than most energy drinks at the time it was launched. iPods, something else they won’t shut the fuck up about in terms of the marketing behind it, made programming a huge tracklist an absolute piece of piss that anyone picking up the highest-memory device could figure out in 45 seconds.
The idea behind engagement is to make the product unique through clever, targeted marketing that creates a ‘unique’ emotional connection between the potential consumer and the brand being advertised. It assumes consumers are stupid enough and superficial enough to allow an advertising experience to morph into some sort of love or loyalty for a product. It, to paraphrase Figaro’s summation when I whined at him endlessly last night about what a wicked, parasitic and unnecessary industry I’m analysing for, assumes you can package turds well enough and make people think they need them.
I’m a misanthrope and I think the worst of everybody, but I don’t think that’s true. Which annoys me, because it means that our society invests millions of dollars and thousands of white-collar college grads in an industry that is essentially a wasteful exercise in disrespect. At this point the advertising juggernaut has become a self-perpetuating industry, like the arms industry, and while the results haven’t been so spectacularly inhuman there’s certainly a sickly dehumanizing element to it that has filled me with fury.
Ah, fury, better than coffee at waking me up.