For most of the history of mass media in the U.S., the “product” in your relationship with a media provider (be it a social network, magazine, TV network, etc.) has not been the content you consume. The product is you. In other words, media providers aren’t interested in selling you content. Media providers sell you, the audience, to advertisers. Content has been subordinate to advertising, not the other way around.
This is not a new idea, and I am certainly not the first person to say this (I credit Dallas Smythe). And I am not sure anything I have to say in this blog post is anything original. But, even if I am simply adding to a symphony of wiser people saying essentially the same thing, I still think it is important to add my little volume to that symphony. My argument here is pretty simple: for media providers and advertisers (especially advertisers), it’s time to rethink our product …
Content is King.
Guess what? Less than half of millennials watch any traditional television. So you can’t talk to them at the water cooler about last night’s show. Maybe they’ll catch it on Hulu. Maybe. Besides, who cares about some new show aired week-to-week on CBS when they can binge-watch so much great content on Netflix? Oh, and before you claim binge-watching is some sort of disease, a) it’s not, and b) binge-watching is simply watching TV at your own pace. Can’t do that with a broadcast.
And all those commercials. Ugh. No time for that.
That’s why content is king: there’s no time for commercials. The media industry has been suing VCRs and Hoppers since bell-bottoms were worn without irony, because Advertising was King. Content was only important as long as it brought the audience to the advertisers. But now the audiences are figuring out how to get the content without the ads, because new models are providing ways to do just that (don’t just blame millennials — it’s really Netflix’s fault.)
But what about Big Data? Shouldn’t that be king? Well, yeah, we can get as creepy as we want these days with all the data Facebook gives us. Google collects a ton of data, too. We can segment, target, focus, re-focus, re-analyze, double-analyze, and create tight little niche audiences in real-time and completely on the fly. Audiences for sale! Get ‘em while they’re hot …
Audiences who use ad-block software.
Audiences on Netflix to avoid commercials.
Oh, Netflix collects a ton of data, too, but they do it to deliver the right content to the audience. You know, since they don’t, you know, care about, like, ads … Millennials, am I right?
Content is King.
So what does all of this mean? Well, it means that advertising has never been more about creativity than it has to be now. We need to be creative not just in our copywriting, but in our media planning and strategy. We’re not buying audiences anymore. We have to deliver content, because that’s what audiences want. That’s what they’ve always wanted. Always. In the past, they’ve put up with our ads because they didn’t have a choice. Now they do.
At the end of October, social media will most likely — dare I say assuredly — be abuzz with all things Stranger Things, the sequel series to last season’s surprise hit. People will watch it on Netflix, and they won’t see one commercial. They’ll talk about it on social media and at the local brew pub. They’ll talk about their favorite moments, and their favorite characters.
But they won’t talk about their favorite commercials, because there won’t be any.
But they might talk about Eggo Waffles. They already have been.
Interesting. Even more interesting is the fact that Eggo’s relationship with the show was a “happy accident.” Netflix wasn’t paid to use Eggo so prominently. The truth is, most product placement is simply happy accidents. Is product placement the future of advertising?
I don’t know, man. Had the waffle thing been an arranged, paid thing, maybe it would have been a mess. Maybe not. Product placement is so hard to do well, without the whole show turning into a weird commercial. Nobody likes that.
But what an opportunity for Netflix and Eggo. This is why we need to get creative. This is why we need to think about content, and how to do it really well.
It is, after all, King.