37 years ago, The Tootsie Roll Corporation foisted one of the greatest fabrications in history on the American consumer. And this seemingly innocuous little owl was at the center of the deceit.
The premise, as presented in a commercial showcasing this bulbous-eyed blowhard, was that the number of licks required to get to the chocolately goodness at the center of a Tootsie Pop was merely three.
Only three licks? Holy cow! I gotta get me one of those.
Setting aside the voracity of the claim, let's fast forward 37 years. I’m watching Pokémon with my 8-year-old son and that same commercial appears. Not being a connoisseur of Tootsie Pops, he asks me whether it really requires just three licks. Way back when, I’d have shrugged my shoulders and maybe leaned across my neighbor’s white picket fence to see what he knows—but mostly just trusted the commercial and company to have told me the truth. Today, instead, my cynical son and I turned to the largest white picket fence in history and asked Google to give us access to the truth.
What did we find?
First, we found four studies from Purdue University, University of Michigan, Swarthmore Junior High and Whittier Elementary School in Waukesha, Wisconsin. Through the use of both human tongue and licking machine tests, they all laid bare the ugly reality. It takes quite a bit more than three licks to get to the center. U of M’s licking machine gave us the highest average number of licks at 441. Holy cow! Where in the hell is Michael Moore when you need him?
The studies weren’t all we discovered. We found 36 groups on Facebook with thousands of members dedicated to sharing and debunking on the topic of how many licks it takes to get to the center of the Tootsie Pop. We found dozens and dozens of sites with people jumping in with their own opinions, personal stories and studies that demonstrated the kind of objectivity and honesty The Tootsie Roll Corporation could not muster.
What’s the point of all this candy-coated gum-flapping?
Let’s assume for a minute that you’re a grouchy old scrooge who doesn’t give a hoot about kids, honesty America or how many licks it takes. Perhaps instead you are trying to decide what kind of car to buy or whether or not to join the armed services or what health plan to choose. Imagine what you’re going to find across that same picket fence about any of those choices. Marketers’ three-lick lies won’t stand a chance.
If you’re Chevrolet and launching a new sedan that is actually better than the Japanese alternatives, what hope does an ad, even a great one, have to convince someone to switch when in one click you can get thousands of people’s opinions about those same cars? The issue isn’t whether the 30-second spot is dead or alive. The issue is that for considered purchases, it and any other form of vertical media has ceased to play a significant role in the decision-making process. Its job is at best to drive you from the vertical world into the horizontal Current of participatory media. We depict this in the graphic below:
We believe now that communication models must be Current-centric and that our clients such as Chevy or the U.S. Navy require active ears and voices in the Current in order to be successful. For the U.S. Navy, it means fostering the creation of an objective peer-to-peer node (in this case out at YouTube) in which sailor-submitted content, videos, pictures, etc. is available to give someone an accurate portrayal of what it would be like to serve. There is no other way to be successful. The days of the vertical, closed-company and marketing model are over. The U.S. Navy is so smart about this world that they make video equipment available on ships and encourage sailors to create their own videos capturing the truth of the Navy. We still create ads in an effort to amplify or accelerate movement to the Current, but that is the role advertising plays best in the world of the considered purchase.
Campbell-Ewald has tackled the issue of how to work well in the Current in three initial moves. First, we modified our strategic planning process to analyze and map out the ecosystem of where people are living in the Current. Second, we integrated our Custom Publishing and Digital groups. Great content is the critical communication element for creating or supplementing attractive nodes (places where people congregate) in the Current. Finally, we launched a social media group to help create movement, traffic, coverage, community, whatever is needed in order to effectively listen and have a voice where the people are in charge.
Ultimately, if you’re selling something people need to think about before buying the Current is where the first and last dollar must be spent. Once you get this right, you can tell The Tootsie Roll Corporation and their feckless owl that they can go pound sand ‘cause we’re on to them.