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August 9, 2010
The Evolution of Advertising
 
Adapt now. Or regret it later.

“People actually do that?” is probably the most common question asked in the advertising world lately in agencies, in creative presentations, and in perhaps, places of business everywhere. Technology is changing the media landscape so incredibly fast that agencies and clients alike are struggling to create work to match the latest platform of the moment. In fact, it has become quite the chase. We are chasing an audience who won’t keep still. Gone are the days when the vast majority of eyeballs could be counted on to see your creative brilliance in a newspaper, magazine, billboard, or TV. Most people you encounter aren’t even looking up. They’re too busy futzing with BlackBerries, iPhones, iPads, iPods, or some other mobile device that acts like an extra appendage.

Meanwhile, businesses have stuff to sell, or to put it in touchy-feely terms, “a story to tell," all the while the stage keeps morphing, and the audience has made themselves remarkably elusive. It’s starting to feel like the world of “Inception,” where the environment defies physics when you’re just trying to cross the street. It’s becoming harder and harder to watch companies rely on what’s familiar and comfortable to them, only to be confronted months later with, “Why aren’t we on the iPad?” How many blank stares did you get when you first described Facebook or Foursquare? How many times have you been asked, “People actually do that?”

Adding to the frustration is that not every new platform will catch on, no matter how cool it is. Look at any presentations from 2009 and see if developing a “widget” was recommended. I bet it’s in there, somewhere. Even behemoth Microsoft is behind the curve. Microsoft invested loads of time and money on the Zune, and more recently, the Kin “Facebook” phone or whatever it was. Who do you know who has a Zune? Anyone? The Kin was discontinued 48 days(!) after it launched. The bigger story is that Microsoft joined the party too late and couldn’t compete in a marketplace dominated by the iPod and other mobile devices. Would any of you have imagined uttering “Microsoft can’t compete” 10 years ago, or even five?

Some may say waiting too long to adapt is an old story in advertising. Surely there were people who thought TV would never catch on because people just loved their radio shows and The Saturday Evening Post. Well, they did. Until they didn’t. It’s an advertising professional’s job to know where the eyes are, or where they’re going. Right now, 500 million pairs are on Facebook, if that tells you anything. An average of 2 million people will be watching “Mad Men” on Sundays for the next few months. That’s the present. Who knows what the future will bring? All that’s for certain is that some companies will try something new and be praised for it, while others won’t and wonder what’s wrong.

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Brad Mislow is a New York-based ACD in both traditional and digital media. He has worked on Citibank, Toyota, AT&T, Mercedes-Benz, the U.S. Army, American Express, Hershey Foods, Unilever, DHL, Kraft Foods, Kodak, Amtrak, Miller Lite, and Post Cereals. For a look at his work and more articles like this one, go to bradmislow.com.

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