During the golden days of national billboard campaigns, lavishly produced TV-spots, and excessive oyster martini lunches, advertisements were all about one thing: selling. Luckily, those days are over for good. In today’s marketing business it’s all about delivering product value and functionality – making things people want, rather than making people want things.
“How do you make your cigarettes?”
Don Draper asks the obviously baffled Lucky Strike Executive Lee Garner in the first episode of “ Mad Men,” the cult US drama about a New York advertising agency. The question, asked in order to find a novel and vivid marketing message for the cigarette producer, is followed by this splendid dialog: “Well, we breed tobacco seeds,” Garner replies, “plant ‘em in the North Carolina sunshine, grow it, cut it, cure it, toast it …” Don Draper: “There you go: Lucky Strike – it’s toasted.” Lee Garner: “But everybody else’s tobacco is toasted.” Don Draper: “No, everybody else’s tobacco is poisonous – Lucky Strike is toasted.” That being said, the advertising maven Draper holds his breath for a couple of seconds – turning an otherwise dull client meeting into an occult ritual, where the called Messiah is about to lecture his wide-eyed client by pointing out the core of his religious beliefs: “Advertising is based on one thing: happiness.”
“Advertising is based on one thing: happiness.” –Don Draper
Although Lucky Strike used its famous claim “It’s toasted” long before the fictitious figure of Don Draper was around – it was actually invented and first used in 1917 – Matthew Weiner, main narrator and mastermind of the “Mad Men” series, has a point here. Operating in the unsaturated markets of the 60s, advertising agencies had to fulfill one task and one task only: to marinade products with messages that would make people happy. Although the secret formula sounds rather one dimensional from today’s perspective, it worked beautifully. Why? Well, mainly because of two things. First and foremost, customers back then didn’t have much choice. For the most part, markets were operated neither globally nor were they transparent for the regular customer. People who were craving for a certain product basically had to buy what was offered around their geographic location. Secondly: with only a couple of different touch points such as newspapers, billboards, and a very limited broadcast network around, it was pretty easy for brands to get through to a substantial amount of potential buyers with their feel-good messages. Based on the simple fact of limitation, Don Draper’s happiness formula held true for several decades – helping brands grow into multinational conglomerates. Until – Well, until it started to crumble in the late nineties and has been deteriorating ever since.
Nike+: Digital integration at its best
With the Internet on the rise, global competition and oversaturated markets made it tough for manufacturers to ship their products as effortlessly as they used to – with their ambitious growth strategies grinding to an abrupt halt. Up until the late 90s, major brands around the globe expanded their market shares merely by acquiring companies up and down their vertical and horizontal value chains. But by the mid-2000s, even overly successful lifestyle brands such as Nike were struggling to keep their track record. Shoe sales were plummeting for the sports gear producer from Oregon, and then newly appointed CEO Mark Parker had to come up with a game-changing idea in order to bring the brand back to its old glory. And boy, he delivered. He not only brought Nike’s shoe sales back on track, but also pushed the entire corporation to unprecedented limits. How? By inventing the first digitally integrated brand in the history of marketing. Parker was the first CEO who realized that in order to sustain his business in transparent markets, he had to ask himself the question, “How can I help my existing clients with additional brand value?” rather than, “What can I sell them next?” His brilliant answer came wrapped up in a digital service called Nike+ in 2006 – basically a website that helps athletes to keep track of their training results simply by tracking their training sessions. Back then, the service required a distinct Nike sports shoe that was hocked to an Apple iPod and could therefore easily track any kind of running session. Meanwhile, the service is nested into a mobile app which became an instant success after its release and is being used by over 21 million sports enthusiasts around the globe. The instant success of Nike+ gave Parker more traction to expand his digitally integrated strategy by inventing even more digital Nike products. Today, the sports brand offers several wearable tech products and services, from its famous FuelBand and sports watches to a stand-alone Kinect game for indoor training. Instead of inventing just another sports shoe, Nike took the effort and the risk of lifting its business up to a new level – creating a brand that not only provides athletes with their basic sports gear, but also helps them accomplish their overall athletic goals with ease and comfort.
Post-Advertising Era: Where Madison Ave meets Silicon Valley
With the Nike case being around for a couple of years now, other brands are starting to follow similar patterns. Marketers around the globe are starting to understand – albeit slowly – that they have to interweave their existing products with new and valuable digital services in order to please their loyal customers. Mature shoppers no longer believe in shallow marketing messages. Though most marketers still don’t like to hear it, we are living in a post-advertising era where brands have to develop services, their own media platforms, and products that mutually rely on each other. Take John Deere, for instance. How could a down-to-earth company from Illinois that specializes in agricultural machinery possibly adapt to a digitally integrated product strategy? The answer comes in the form of an app called “ Mobile Farm Manager” – an iOS-based service that lets you perform crucial tasks to maintain your soil quality, access interactive farm maps, or run reports that give you exact directions on how to fertilize particular fields. Developed with a holistic approach in mind, the app is shipped with standard APIs to John Deere’s general farm management software “ Apex” – incorporating it into a worry-free ecosystem of value for all clients loyal to the yellow deer. Same but different is Red Bull’s endeavor of bringing their extreme sport event “ Crashed Ice” into the living rooms of enthusiastic fans. Its namesake Kinect game offers the possibility to participate in a digital counterpart of Red Bull’s real and tough “Crashed Ice” contest – handing over a fun and tangible brand experience to potential product buyers.
“Change is neither good nor bad – it simply is.” –Don Draper
The new world of marketing belongs to those who are able to innovate – to canny thinkers who are proficient in inventing interrelated and valuable ecosystems for brands in order to help them expand their market share with meaningful products. In short: if you can’t do meaningful, start looking for another job. Old-school advertisers from agencies and publishing houses to TV stations will continue going out of business if they don’t understand what it means to be in the marketing and media business of the 21st century. Maybe they would have a chance if they took this last piece of advice from Don, the oracle of their peer group, to heart: “Change is neither good nor bad – it simply is.”
Text: Thomas Escher
Illustration: Belinda Förner, grasundsterne
Translation: Toby Skingsley