Remember that old 80s mantra.
Times change. Too much is way more than anyone needs or can stand.
Marketing organizes and expresses brands to connect with an audience in meaningful ways and stand out from the crowd. But over the past few years, lots of major media opportunities have become numbingly overexposed. In the drive to deliver “eyeballs” or consumer impressions, successes big and small, proven or potential, are repeated to the point that instead of being meaningfully connected, the audience is meaningfully disconnected.
In the media business, we’ve seen the exponential multiplication of any piece of programming that even hints at being successful. Ratings jump, and network execs jump to put in new orders and clear the schedule for more nights. Really, does anyone want to see Howie Mandel for 4 hours every week?
Let’s look at car racing. Originally a rather niche sport, albeit one with a rabid following of loyalists, NASCAR had an image and a reality that aligned with real needs in the audience. Each broadcast was eagerly awaited by its fans. And a group of niche-y advertisers found a relevant and exciting environment for their brands. With the rise of multi-billion, multi-network television deals, the sport has fundamentally transformed. Drivers are cloned through relentless media training into slim, 5’7’’, tow-headed, second-city weathermen.
NASCAR drivers have ceased talking to their audience with any genuine feeling or even personality. They master the ability to walk away from a 180 mph crash and congratulate the sponsor for supporting such a hard-working crew. The adage of race on Sunday, sell on Monday has been recast. It isn’t about Ford guys and Chevy guys — it’s Home Depot vs. Frosted Flakes. Sponsorship has reached the point of diminishing returns. Yes, the merchandizing runs across many platforms, from key rings to jackets to branded vacations — but how much can they mean when they’re everywhere? And, with NASCAR broadcasting Craftsman Trucks on Friday, Busch on Saturday, and Nextel Cup on Sunday, it’s overload for even the faithful. Ratings are down.
In baseball, Fox’s innovative coverage of the game is so innovative that it is hard to know exactly what we’re watching. Constant re-plays start blending together with the actual plays, and where are we? There are, of course, other examples of brand over-proliferation. New product extension gives us 22 different types of Band-Aids to choose from, an infinite number of toothpaste variants, and 15,000 new products in supermarkets every year.
It is certain that brand proliferation and extension generate incremental monies. But long-term, does it help or hinder the franchise? And, does it help or hinder the consumer?
The absolute truth is that brands reflect a specific bond between its values and those of its audience. The greater the specificity, the stronger the bond. Look at the difference between Microsoft and Apple. We are not advocating ignoring new revenue or gaining more shelf space. But, constant brand proliferation will diminish the bonds that consumers have with the brand. And that will lead to less ability to maintain strong margins. And that will accelerate the brand’s drive to commoditization.
And, there’s no profit there.
Brands need to think about media and delivery strategies that create and preserve the specialness of their messages. That will require better research and more specific understanding and definition of the audience. It will require understanding the nuance between a brand strategy and a media strategy. It will require communications that can prioritize the objectives to focus on an achievable goal. There will need to be, more so than ever, creative work that does more than simply entertain or create a sensation, work that “says” something meaningful about the brand’s place in the consumer’s world. That enhances the bond with the audience.
Eyeballs are good, but not if they’re glazed over.