Advertising Is Dead.
Today’s technology has killed advertising as we knew it. The ad industry just hasn’t held the funeral yet. In 1993 TV viewers watched a handful of channels, not the 250 DirectTV now pipes into your home from outer space. Tivo hadn’t been invented yet. Neither had the all-but-ubiquitous iPod. Cell phones were still a status symbol. And—shock of shocks—the web simply wasn’t. The first version of the first web browser, Netscape 0.9, wasn’t made available until October of the following year.
1993 was also the year advertising agency WONGDOODY opened its doors. In the scant 13 years since the company’s birth, its founders say that the advertising landscape has changed completely, and that companies can no longer rely on interruption-based marketing strategies. Consumers can now get all the information they need instantaneously. At the same time, the ability of an interruptive ad to actually interrupt is declining as people shift their media usage from TV and print (where they’re subject to “involuntary” exposure to ads), over to the web, email, and handheld devices, where the audience decides what commercial information they want to see.
One byproduct of this media shift, according to WONGDOODY, is that consumers can now find out the truth about a product or service from other consumers on blogs and consumer rating web sites. The consequence for advertisers is that you now have to seed the spread of consumer opinion (hopefully, favorable) by encouraging the passing of information through viral “tell a friend” email campaigns. Friends, after all, have much more credibility than an advertiser.
There’s a catch, however, and it’s that consumers don’t want to forward ham-fisted sales messages to their friends. But they will send things they find entertaining. So what does that make the best kind of online advertising? The fun, entertaining, likeable kind.
Tracy Wong points out that the critical elements for a successful campaign haven’t changed all that much—ads still need to be relevant, likeable, and unexpected. What has changed, he notes, is that now you’re absolutely dead if you ignore those three attributes.
Creating a Viral Campaign.
A recent campaign WONGDOODY created for Alaska Airlines is a direct reflection of this new advertising environment. The unexpected twist behind this marketing effort was the development of a complete spoof campaign for a non-existent airline—Alaska’s alter-ego, Sky High Airlines. TV ads (yes, there’s still a place for traditional media) show the ridiculous, truly laughable, extreme of the industry’s current trend away from good service. An amazingly sophisticated web site, skyhighairlines.com, pokes fun at the Byzantine methods airlines use to arrive at air fares. The agency even created a mock version of the tiresome in-flight catalogs found in your seatback. This one features products anticipating the next reduction in airline service, such as high-tech “virtual first class” goggles.
Is it all in fun? Hardly. The New York Times found enough intrigue in the campaign to give it a major story. Visits to skyhighairlines.com have topped more than 25 million (since there’s been virtually no promotion of the URL, the “tell a friend” factor and links from blogs are largely responsible for those clicks). Most astonishing, Alaska has turned in a profit 9 of the last 10 years.
The New Creative Challenge.
Coming up with these seeming off-the-wall ideas is why smart, high-octane creativity is essential for effective marketing in the new era. “It used to be that you applied all your creativity to thinking up a stopper concept for a TV ad,” Wong says. “Now you have to be just as ingenious to dream up a new medium—painting on sidewalks, fake websites, bathroom stall posters, or what have you—and then you need to be as brilliant as ever in devising the creative message that appears there.”
These ideas from WONGDOODY were presented at an all-day workshop, “Advertising-Not-As-Usual,” led by Pat Doody and Tracy Wong and held at Seattle’s School of Visual Concepts. This workshop is one of more than 100 SVC has presented since starting its professional development program for design, advertising, and marketing communications professionals in 2003. Current workshop offerings can be seen at www.svcseattle.com, or by requesting a catalog at 206 623 1560.
Pat Doody and Tracy Wong, co-founders of the agency bearing their names, are regarded as two of the most creative minds in the advertising industry. With offices in Seattle and Los Angeles, WONGDOODY is best known for its award-winning marketing campaigns for Alaska Airlines, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Widmer Brothers Brewing, Alpine Electronics, and the Los Angeles Dodgers. The agency has completely diversified its capabilities in recent years, offering public relations, interactive, and design services. For more information, call 206-624-5325 or visit www.wongdoody.com.