June 19th, 2006

Media Should Evolve Into Marketing Services


I increasing believe that in order to survive and grow in a digital, networked, social, participatory world, media companies need to evolve into marketing services companies. Here’s what’s driving me to that conclusion.

Advertising took another significant step yesterday towards graduating from paid media placements (i.e. traditional ads). Ironically, it starts with a paid media placement on The Huffington Post:

HUFFINGTONPOST.COM THIS WEEKEND LAUNCHED A video ad promotion featuring seven TV ads, all selected for their high “viral” potential–meaning some quality that makes them likely candidates for e-mail forwarding. So far the ads, produced by agency JWT, are purely voluntary viewing; visitors have to click on a small video screen on the site’s right-hand side to see them.

JWT, formerly J. Walter Thompson, purchased the ad space for this pilot initiative, which will offer TV ads for Ford, JetBlue, Levi’s, the Partnership for a Drug Free America, Scruffs, and Billy Collins–all chosen for humor or novelty value.

This is the future — advertising that is worth watching not because you are forced to do so through interruption, but because the marketing message itself is entertaining or useful.

And thanks to the fully networked Web 2.0, viral marketing is no longer just a buzzword. Sharing has gone mainstream.

So JWT paid The Huffington Post for its “reach,” but as for all of the emails forwarding ads to friends and colleagues, well, that’s FREE, i.e. media DOES NOT GET PAID. Perhaps the Huffington Post is selling that viral reach — if so, more power to them — but that comes at the expense of other paid media.

But the truth is that advertisers don’t need media anymore…at least not for traditional ad space…and if they do, it’s only to kick-start a viral marketing effort with an influential site like the Huffington Post, or with a bit of search advertising. And then that’s it — just a bit of paid media, and the social network kicks in.

But companies do need marketing services firms like JWT (who did make a major 1.0 mistake by trying to control the email forwarding mechanism and not allowing the embedding of the ads on blogs and other sites like YouTube does, but these kinks will be worked out eventually).

Robert Young writing on GigaOm images a new kind of advertising that MySpace could do with “micro-celebrities,” which ends up sounding a whole lot like marketing services:

When it comes to advertising in mass media, a big name is required since such campaigns are only effective if the viewer already knows who that celebrity is. But in a social network, micro-celebrities who are well known within their network of micro-communities could prove just as effective and potentially even more so, particularly if such campaigns are able to generate buzz, excitement and a cool-factor.

As for MySpace’s role in all this, they are in the unique position to know better than anyone (as the owner of the platform with all the user data) who the “brand-safe” users are within its network.

Thus MySpace can effectively play the role of talent agent by aggregating a list of users who would be appropriate for advertisers within various categories. In fact, the incentive “to be discovered” is likely to spur many users to express themselves in a manner that will position them favorably for consideration. The result is a win for everyone involved.

As a commenter pointed out, this is already being done:

The Old Navy scenario is already happening. Take a look at the DHL site, waitinwoes.com, where you can upload and animate a photo of your friend’s face and splice it into the action.

Waitin Woes

Here’s another example I found on Brand Autopsy:

Brains on Fire has helped Fiskars to identify some of its customer evangelists and in turn, crafted a Fiskars Brand Ambassador program cutely named, “Fiskateers.” Not only can other Fiskars evangelists become Fiskateers, they can also participate in a Fiskateers blog.

On the just-launched blog, four Fiskateers are actively blogging and sharing their love for all things scrapbooking.


While the business of traditional paid media advertising placements is headed into a death spire, there is a very bright future for marketing services.

Someone has to help companies create compelling content that will be a destination unto itself. Some has to help companies create value for prospective consumers once they actually land on the company’s site. Somebody has to help companies understand the communities (the group of people formerly known as “the audience”) they want to connect with for viral marketing.

Media companies (should) know a lot about how to connect with their audiences, they (should) know a lot about how to create valuable content for their audiences, and they already have channels to reach those audiences — and the best media companies are also learning how to connect their audience with each other and to leverage the power of “communities” — in theory, this should give media companies a huge advantage over traditional marketing services companies.

This is the driving force behind lead generation in B2B media, which has made TechTarget a success. Creating white papers and webinars for IT companies is a marketing services function — TechTarget is as much, if not more, a marketing services company as it is a media company.

So what does that do to traditional content that media companies create, like news, features, journalism, dramas, sitcoms, etc.? — Those businesses will likely survive, but most won’t grow very much, some will shrink, and some media brands may not survive at all.

  • Media as we know it is broken, that's the whole reason for a post like this and the resulting discussion!

    >>>news, research and analysis consultancies that sell clients their insights in the form of publications

    And no, that's not exactly what I'm talking about. But unfortunately I have to actually do work in this area instead of commenting about it all day. :)

  • Brian (not Clark):

    Sure they are creating content, but it is not for the purposes of journalism, but for soliciting business and organizing conferences.

    Uh, yeah, isn't that what "marketing services" is?

  • Brian Clark,

    It seems what you are describing is not so much "media as we know it" but news, research and analysis consultancies that sell clients their insights in the form of publications. Sure they are creating content, but it is not for the purposes of journalism, but for soliciting business and organizing conferences.

  • I'm going to have to disagree with the other Brian on this one. I think what Scott is seeing is correct.

    The TechTarget example is spot on, but here's what to think about (and I think Scott has already alluded to this with his post):

    The most successful direct marketing publishers online use the same model as TechTarget, except it's all in house. They don't buy media to sell (although they might to drive traffic), they publish, create a relationship, and then (and only then) do they sell directly.

    In other words, even TechTarget is not safe as companies get more media savvy. Those TechTarget clients will simply leave once they figure out they can replicate the same model in house.

    That's the model for now and even moreso in the future. You buy low cost, targetted traffic, offer value with free content, build a relationship, and then sell lots and lots.

    Will this model work for traditional media companies that don't create content as marketing, but rather content for it's own sake, and primarily as a vehicle for marketing messages? It depends on if they can successfully transition to selling merchandise that ties into the content, and become direct marketers themselves.

    Some smart folks will make that work. Don't make the mistake of thinking that because it's not all the common now that it can't work (and I actually think I recall seeing that the BMW Films campaign went rather well -- but that's still not the model Scott is talking about).

    Others will have to compete on price to sell traffic-driving ads to those more lucrative companies who create *and* sell.

    And the very best entertainment will be paid for. See HBO.

    The one thing I can't figure out is... what happens to journalism? Maybe Mark Cuban has the right idea of business investigative journalism that uncovers news that is revealed for free (but only after the inforamtion is traded on in the public markets).

    Not sure that scales into regular news, though. News just may simply become less profitable, which as Scott has said before, is a real problem.

  • Scott,

    I agree with you that the media-advertising world is changing, I just think you have the wrong idea of where it is going to go. Advertisers since the advent of the web have been setting up websites that promote their brands that allow you to replay tv commercials and "engage" with the brand. Most of the famous examples that go outside of the traditional media chain--BMW Films, BK's Subserviant Chicken--while interesting and amusing do not necessarily drive customers into wanting to buy their products any more than other ads.

    Most ad copywriters if they had any talent at producing funny, compelling content would be snapped up by Hollywood studios at much larger salaries. What output that might get you a Clio wouldn't come even close to getting you an Oscar. The only reason people put up with ads in the first place is not because they are entertaining, but because most households don't have TiVo and are too lazy or technophobic to get one.

    However, that is not to say that all is doom and gloom for the media business. If you give consumers a choice in where, when and how ads are placed so that they themselves choose what ads to interest them, then they might just start paying attention to ads once again.

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