New media platforms shouldn’t follow old media rules
Two years and a little ago, I was preparing a conference in Iceland. I woke up in a hotel in Reykjavik with the usual winning combination of hangover/jet lag/exhaustion and went downstairs to get some coffee. On the way down I spotted a tall Viking dude standing outside with a cigarette. These fucking Nordics are so beautiful they make smoking seem healthy and pure.
And, in a way that surprised me at the time, I walked straight out and asked him for a cig. He was happy for the company. And we stood together gazing at the morning snow, the mountains around Breidha Fjord and beyond to the Greenland Sea. Finally, he gave me a big clap in the hand and walked in. I was left alone for 10 minutes. Touching the snow, breathing the air and enjoying the existential pleasure of being in a strange place.
Talking done, I drove to the airport. By the time I got home, Covid had become the topic. Within a week, traveling and meeting and life as we knew it had been abandoned. I remember taking my watch off and putting it away because, for the foreseeable future, such things were no longer needed. Instead, I took a small brown pearl necklace that I had bought for my wife, which she had never worn, and wrapped it three times around my left wrist. I called it my “Covid bracelet” and never took it off.
The big question has never been whether Netflix would advertise, but what kind of advertising model it would implement.
It was in Melbourne and then Sydney last week where I realized it was all over. That we are officially living in a post-Covid world.
I know I know. This is a medically incorrect observation. The Covid has never been so contagious or so widespread. But damn Jim, I’m a marketer, not a doctor! Our perception of the Covid, our culture, our way of life have evolved. Virus or not. So, I slipped off my Covid bracelet and went to get my watch.
I was in Sydney for a big event for LiSTNR, the digital arm of Australian media company SCA. The company was promoting a series of great podcast shows to advertisers and for some reason they had invited me to the fancy dinner with all the talent and senior executives. It was my first conversation in the industry in nearly three years and I enjoyed every glass of it.
Podcasts are not radio
At one point, a particularly serious and familiar-looking media official looked over the table and asked, “What are you doing here?” I was a bit taken aback, and as I thought about the question, I realized I didn’t have much of an answer. I stammered something about writing a podcast column.
He thought about my answer for what felt like about five minutes, then said, “I can’t wait to be there.” Shit, I thought, I’m going to have to write something because this wanker is going to be watching me.
Are you one of the SCA executives, I asked obediently? He stopped again. “Me?” he exclaimed. “No mate,” he laughed, “I’m Howie.”
And then everything started to fall into place. It was Mark Howard, famous Australian sports commentator and official holder of the World’s Most Australian Looking and Sounding Bloke award for nine consecutive years. Howie presents the Howie Games, which is a huge podcast for anyone who loves sports in Australia. He was one of the “audio celebrities” deployed for the event and was also the only person at dinner who drank more Chablis per minute than me, so we quickly fell into a very pleasant conversation – or “convo” as we let’s call it Down Below.
[It’s] on the recognition that the linear television advertising model was built in the 1950s for a different kind of consumer, using a different kind of technology, in very different contexts, and for very different brands.
A moment really stayed with me. Howie knows the “fuck it all” about marketing, but he’s a smart guy and a bit of a podcasting pioneer. And he had a hard time accepting the idea that radio commercials had a place in commercial podcasting. His argument was that whenever his podcast included ads made for radio, they felt bad for him. “What,” he wanted to know, “do marketers think?”
And that’s an interesting question, rarely asked. Most marketers know the power of spreading their media dollars across multiple channels. But the temptation to save time, money and effort by reusing the same video runtime that was made for TV on YouTube, or reusing print ads for digital purposes, is too often the approach more common.
I told Howie about some interesting data I had seen from Analytic Partners years before. The data presented below suggests that when you create your own native content dedicated to digital video, it is likely to be three times more effective than TV creation that has been repurposed for digital channels.
By extension, Howie’s theory that radio commercials should stay on the radio and podcasts should develop their own format stands up to scrutiny. The only example my Chablis-soaked brain could give him overnight was the old Russell Brand podcast from a decade ago.
The controversial comic was one of the first celebrities – alongside stalwart co-host Matt Morgan – to successfully break into podcasting. In 2015, he pitched his show at AudioBoom, and for the first time, ads from brands like Audible and Visit Las Vegas funded the show.
In a bold move, the commercials were read live by Morgan. Inevitably, given that it was Russell Brand and the purpose of his show was to riff anything in dodgy, sometimes super dodgy territory, he took the opportunity to mercilessly piss nearly every sponsor that has attempted to promote himself on his podcast. As the series progressed, it became clear that many brands were clearly uncomfortable with this skewer.
Much to Brand’s hilarity, Morgan was tasked with keeping the cantankerous host from going off-script during the commercials, ensuring Brand pees even more. And make the commercial on the show even more hilarious.
Despite the apparent discomfort of some advertisers, there was something amazing about the way Brand dissects, redirects and reverses each ad. If you were an untrained and thoughtless CMO, his approach would have caused enormous concern. Most dumb marketers seek consistency – control at the expense of any appropriate market impact.
Rather than try to improve this 80 year old man [TV] model, Netflix should ignore it.
But if you understood marketing correctly, there was a lot to like about Brand’s approach. For starters, what was supposed to be a one-minute ad often turned into a profanity-laden five-minute adventure. And while this is dangerous territory, each brand was granted a massive salience multiplier, as Morgan bravely tried to push through every commercial while Brand bombarded him with innuendo and arguments, around and under each message.
Ironically, given Brand’s anti-commercial agenda, his ambushes dragged ads from the show’s periphery into its molten red center. Promotional nirvana, in other words.
And that proves Howie’s point. Because those incredibly electric commercial deletions would have been unlikely in the more stuffy, controlled environment of radio. He suggests that, if marketers are to aim for cross-channel campaign synergy, they should do so with assets distinctly created and designed natively for each specific medium.
Streaming is not TV
And that brings us to Netflix and the biggest moment in advertising next year. As you almost certainly already know, the streaming giant is set to split into two tiers in early 2023 – a high-priced service much like the one it currently runs, and a cheaper, fund-funded tier. The advertisement. And Netflix certainly won’t be the last streaming company to go this route, as other giants like Disney+ shift their focus from customer recruitment to profit making.
The big question has never been whether Netflix would advertise, but what kind of advertising model it would implement. CEO Reed Hastings has often spoken of a “better-than-linear television advertising model, more transparent and relevant for consumers, and more effective for ad partners.” But, with respect, I think that statement is wrong.
It’s not about being “better” than linear television. It’s about being different. Recognize that the linear TV advertising model was built in the 1950s for a different type of consumer, using a different type of technology, in very different contexts, and for very different brands. Rather than try to improve on this 80-year-old model, Netflix should ignore it. The company should take a step back and invent native advertising that only it could operate and monetize.
It may be just one brand sponsor on the platform every day. Or every week. Maybe that means several skippable messages before the show starts. Or a mid-program break with a single 90-second targeted ad that allows viewers to do something useful like grab a drink. I’m making it all up, of course. I have no specific idea what Netflix should do. Other than something that movies, TV, and YouTube wouldn’t do. Maybe Howie can give them some advice.
You can expect more wit and wisdom from Mark Ritson at Marketing Week’s Festival of Marketing on October 6. The theme of this year’s event is growing brands, businesses and careers. For more information and to buy your ticket, go to Festival website.