11 Challenges for 2011 Advertising

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New Year’s resolutions? No, thanks, I have resolved not to have any.

Why should I put my head in a vise to find out how I’ll handle the pressure?

Still, I feel I should do something in anticipation of the new year. Instead of introspection, I’ll try extrospection. (Yes, it’s a word – “seeking external or societal evidence or information.”) Let’s ponder what 2011 might be like for the ad biz.

Here are 11 challenges we’ll be wrestling with in the New Year:

This recession is getting old.

Expectations are rising for economic growth in 2011. Many economists expect that we’ll see up to 4% growth in the GDP.

With corporations and investors holding huge cash reserves – trillions in total, it is estimated – it’s time for forward thinking companies to invest more in advertising, marketing and public relations…to drive sales.

We in advertising need to better advertise the benefits of advertising. We’ve been cautious in urging clients to do more, because we’ve heard them express caution during this recession. But as consumer and business spending picks up in the new year, we should move confidently in helping clients pounce on new, unexpected opportunities.

Social media can be over-rated.

My company does a lot of web work, and we’re proponents of using social media correctly to promote clients. But with nearly all businesses moving into social media, it’s not easy for a company to draw huge numbers of fans. Being on FaceBook is great, but without loyalty programs and related web marketing to drive traffic to your page, you’re not going to have many faces looking at yours. Consumers can be a fickle bunch.

We need to help clients understand the proper uses and realistic expectations for social media. Social media can be very cost-effective if you have the right offering, strategy and execution, but it’s not an all-purpose solution.

Where’s our 3-D advertising?

If you look at movie revenues in recent years, you’ll see that 3-D animated movies have been especially successful.

Where’s the equivalent breakthrough in advertising technology? 3-D television is on its way. Maybe smell-o-vision with vibrating-recliners will transform the “home theatre.” Meanwhile, we might as well start thinking about 3-D TV spots.

Micro-targeting can be like micro-managing - annoying...

There’s no question that online advertising will continue to be more specialized in targeting -- reaching people not only based on demographics, but on their particular tastes as revealed by past purchases and preferences. Surely you’ve seen plenty of news stories about how professional investigators can easily access someone’s computer files and find out all about them – their associations, spending, etc.

Web crawlers will be feeding information to marketing agencies in new, and sometimes disturbing, ways. As a result, advertising will be more intrusive…and more people will resent advertising as insidious. How should we view, and respond to, this trend?

Nudging clients who need to be prodded.

The need to prod clients without seeming too pushy is a common challenge in business. You don’t want to aggravate them, and yet you realize that if you don’t press them a bit, they tend not to act.

This is particularly challenging in online marketing. You create or redesign a new website for a client, and yet you notice that they only make occasional updates and tend to let the site go stale. Yikes! You implore them to keep it fresh, but it’s often at the bottom of their “to do” list. If the site hasn’t been revamped in 18-24 months, chances are it seems old and boring to the visitors you need to impress and persuade.

Blogging isn’t a new word for bragging.

Do we really need every business to have its own blog? If they have a blog, shouldn’t there be some requirement that they write interestingly… offering something more than the bland and boring company line? If blogging is just another form of propaganda – like advertorials – doesn’t it lose some appeal and authenticity as personal opinion?

Humor can be a serious risk.

When you think of fun in advertising, you might recall creating humorous ads. Comedy is never easy, of course. It’s fraught with risks: You might offend someone easily offended, or turn off people who don’t “get” the joke, or worse, disappoint your client who, after seeing the ad over and over, finds it less and less amusing.

I suppose trying to develop a humorous ad with near-universal appeal won’t be any more difficult in 2011 than past years. However, have you noticed a more serious sensibility with people since the onslaught of recession? It’s not as if everyone has lost their sense of humor, but many don’t seem as inclined to laugh at the absurd. And businesses reflect that more serious attitude, as well. They figure that more consumers are bargain-hunters and need to be sold on benefits and advantages, rather than tickled in the funny bone. Still, the right kind of humor can open minds and create great buzz.

How do you protect corporate reputations in a tangled web world?

Businesses increasingly see the importance of monitoring and defending their honor online. There are a lot of nasty people out there, and if you don’t believe it, check out the “reader comments” at the end of any news article or op-ed about politics.

Some consumers – or perhaps employees of competitors, just pretending to be ordinary consumers – write some pretty vitriolic complaints about companies, including their advertising. Many in the ad biz aren’t directly involved in online marketing, so they don’t worry too much about criticism from a few cranks. But the corporate clients are often sensitive to attacks that potentially could go viral, therefore the ad agencies need to pay some attention to it too. On the other hand, you can be too sensitive to criticism. If those who create ads have to worry about every possible way an ad might be skewered, well, that doesn’t help the creative mood. If you’re too risk-averse, you’ll probably produce a safe, lame ad that has little effect.

“Creative collaboration” is often not creative, nor collaboration.

Surely you’ve noticed that some marketing people have increasingly turned the creative process into a committee exercise. They discourage individual brainstorming and favor only those ideas and language that emerge from group-think…where everyone can feel, and claim, credit – or deny blame – for whatever happens to be crafted in compromise.

But the most creative ideas come from individual minds and not Reg Departments. We are not the Borg. And true collaboration is cooperation between individuals, rather than compromise in a meeting, where an executive’s clout often speaks louder than their words.

Personalizing the impersonal.

I’ve had clients say “We want to be more 2.0. You know, reach-out to consumers”. Corporations increasingly want to engage with, and be responsive to, consumers, yet when you look at their websites and marketing, they seem increasingly impersonal. On the web, corporations have unprecedented ways to interact with consumers in an animated way, but how can that be done effectively? How can companies be more personal and more personable, without seeming contrived?

The viral vision.

We know that truly viral videos are those that are surprising, entertaining, and sometimes useful. But some companies have the unrealistic idea that “going viral” is not all that difficult, and they can just package their pitch in a clever way and that will do it. No, sorry, it’s not so simple.

However, feel free to prove me wrong. Just forward the link to this commentary to ten of your friends, and ask them to do the same…and don’t forget to mention the Nigerian prince who will pay them 150% interest on any money they loan him…

Alex Poulos is the President at LaunchPad Media.

LaunchPad is an award-winning creative agency specializing in interactive media production – creating websites and driving traffic to them through advertising, search optimization, and PR. Headquartered in Watertown, Massachusetts, LaunchPad serves clients throughout the U.S.


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