How Do You Sell Mass Media Without A Super Bowl?

It was fun last week, discussing and debating the Super Bowl ads. It felt particularly special since it’s so rare that we all share an experience. The digital/mobile takeover consigned such commonality to the past, now that we build networks conformed to our own perspectives.

When even our media gravitate toward the niches Chris Anderson famously dubbed ‘the long tail,‘ how can you attract people back to mass platforms like network television, the long tailed beast’s metaphorical body?

Like any marketing challenge, successful solutions require a brilliant strategy. Just over three years ago, some clever people promoting Denmark’s TV2 created video content that is as strategically brilliant as it is emotionally powerful …

Celebrating not what divides us but all that we share; this is a resonant insight brought to tone-perfect life through writing, casting, music, and edit. There’s such delightful surprise in the discovery of our collective commonality and the unexpected things we share.

Locked off so much of the time in our own corners, it’s helpful to be reminded of that. Helpful, and reassuring.

Four year old video content for Denmark's TV2 warmly demonstrates a strategy for attracting people back to mass media: the things we share.

Can A Long Tail Jump The Shark?

Yes, it can.  I hadn’t really considered that possibility before encountering this product from the venerably silly Archie McPhee catalog: Bacon Flavored Toothpaste.

Granted, the McPhee people are in the silly novelty business.  They leverage our affinity for this particular breakfast meat through twenty-eight specifically bacon-related novelties, everything from bacon air fresheners to bacon bandages to bacon lipbalm, floss and gumballs.  When it comes to betting on bacon, they are all in.

Dennis Ryan, Element 79, Chicago AdvertisingBut toothpaste crosses the line.

The Long Tail as popularized by Chris Anderson refers to the strategy of selling a large volume of highly-specialized items in small quantities, as opposed to the mass merchandising philosophy of selling fewer items in larger quantitiies.   This explains the success of many web-businesses that enjoy radically lower stocking and distribution costs, enabling them to find profit in highly-specialized sectors.

The aggregate sales of all these non-mass items is the Long Tail, which brings me back to Bacon Toothpaste.  It’s true, bacon is perhaps the most consistently delightful item in the world of meats. It’s also true, that bacon is predominantly a breakfast item. But that neither explains nor excuses this unholy creation.  Particularly at this early morning hour as the cool gloss of Crest still lingers on my cuspids.

I’m a huge fan of a market with unlimited freedom of choice, but great freedom requires great responsibility. And minty-fresh packaging notwithstanding, this product terrifies me. You have been warned…


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


Be Smart, Be Strategic, But Above All, Be Remarkable

toby-keith-goes-crazy-on-peter-cooperDespite not knowing his music, I often quote country star and Ford truck pitchman Toby Keith when presenting to clients, specifically his brilliant line “If you’re middle of the road, you’re just stuck in traffic.”

That’s more than just a philosophy or opinion; today it’s a proven fact.  A must-read article in this month’s issue of The Economist outlines our radically-evolved entertainment consumption habits.  Television is dead…except it’s not (despite the proliferation of cable and satellite choice, the Wednesday “American Idol” averages 16.5m households).  The music industry is finished, except Billboard disagrees (album sales are down nearly 20% but sales at the top of the charts are slightly up).  No one goes to movies anymore…except they do (“New Moon” earned more in one day than any movie ever).  No one reads books…and yet bestsellers move more volumes today than ever (take Dan Brown…please).

And that’s the key word: best sellers.  Rather remarkably, we live in a time of both the long tail and the blockbuster.  Chris Anderson’s famous prediction of the explosion of niche markets as demand for media migrates from the head of the distribution curve where a few products dominate sales back to the tail where a great many can sell modestly has definitely come true.  And yet simultaneously, the mega productions at the other end of the spectrum have grown as well.  The reason for this may be as simple as society’s ingrained desire for shared experiences or as modern culture driven as the hypothesis that when offered so many choices, we will opt for the popular ones as the best investment of our all-too-scarce time.  That explains why albums ranked between 300 and 400 and television shows below the top ten struggle to survive—there are just too many better options immediately available to suffer through Two and A Half Men for a half hour, hoping something better comes along.

Hits and niche provide today’s power markets, which can be very exciting.  Unfortunately, most advertised products live—or historically have lived—in the vast middle: not too too either way, just pleasantly widespread and accessible.  But to maintain health in this new market, brands and their brand managers need to radically re-imagine their vision for the product.  Stay too broad and you are open to creeping parity from higher-value alternatives.  Hold to your historical marketing methods and brand voice and you grow easily lost in the hue and cry of a highly distracted market perpetually searching for the new thrill, the new idea, the new new thing.

Even if you can’t move entirely to the edges, every brand can and should make forays there in hopes of influencing opinion leaders and spurring word of mouth.  But those communications will have to be more singular, more engaging, more remarkable.  The comfortable idea is rarely viral.

For many, that’s a scary thought.  And these are scary times.

But it’s also an awesome thought.  Because these are exponential times.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79