Be a killer, a creator and think traditional

As the year draws to a close, we look at Ritson’s three biggest themes of the year which have drawn the most comments and been heavily shared throughout the last 12 months. What’s your view?

Traditional media still matters so don’t lose your heads over digital

To be a marketer in 2013 is to encounter a peculiar form of propaganda in which all things digital are promoted as the replacement for, antidote to, and general nemesis of traditional media. That’s especially true for TV which, if the reports are to be believed, is on its last legs as a marketing medium.

It was this propaganda that fuelled the hyperbolic coverage of Oreo’s tweet during the NFL Super Bowl in January which ‘won’ the battle for audience impact versus traditional TV ads on America’s biggest night for advertising. This was despite the fact that Oreo’s tweeted message – that you could dunk your cookie in the dark – was seen by less than 1 per cent of the audience that watched most of the TV ads that night.

Google chief executive Eric Schmidt brazenly claimed that YouTube had taken over traditional TV viewing. Although his comments made for great headlines, it just wasn’t true. Traditional TV remains the dominant activity for most viewers and, according to PwC, it will continue to dwarf online TV ad revenues to the tune of £50bn versus less than £4bn as far off as 2017.

Ofcom’s analysis of UK media consumption ties in with this. According to its data, average TV viewing has increased by an additional 20 minutes since 2005. Telly remains the most important brand-building tool for most brands, most of the time. So bollocks to YouTube and bollocks to all those who would tell you that TV is dead.

Don’t be afraid to kill the weak (brands)

Tesco’s former CEO Terry Leahy is unashamedly proud of the supermarket’s dominating force on high streets, pointing out that its success is a triumph of capitalism, or, as he put it: “You don’t want a society that prevents the [brand] that’s good at getting more customers and doing well.”

Capitalism rests on simple, predatory logic – weak brands must die and strong brands must kill them. Only then will the consumer be served and the market improve or, to use Leahy’s term, progress.

Unfortunately, many marketers find this sharp end of capitalism unpalatable. We’re happy with the idea of deriving success from “delighting” customers but shy away from the side of that equation in which we “destroy” the competition.

Leahy does not have to be your guru. In Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple exemplifies the killer spirit when he proclaims he will spend “every penny of Apple’s $40bn in the bank” to destroy Android. Be aggressive.

Create an open innovation culture

It has been a tradition within marketing to regard the creative teams at major ad agencies as the zenith of innovation. But stand even the most lauded agency creative up against the real innovation auteurs who inhabit the worlds of design, fashion and art and their creative capacity pales into insignificance.

Within the corporate world, however, the name Coca-Cola keeps cropping up when you mention innovation. I love, for example, the Asian strategy of creating a Coke can that can be twisted into halves and shared with a friend. It’s a simple but entrancing idea and turns the constraint of product packaging on its head.

My favourite innovation, however, has to be Coke’s ‘Small World Machine’ strategy. Back in March, Coca-Cola installed hi-tech vending machines in a pair of shopping malls: one in New Delhi, India and the other in Lahore, Pakistan. These so-called Small World Machines linked strangers from the divided nations in the hope of promoting cultural understanding and connection via a Coke vending machine. It may sound twee and slightly idealistic but the video of the activity is that rarest of things, a genuinely moving marketing moment.

Coke seems to have cracked the challenge of ‘open innovation’ – ideas don’t come from one place, they can come from anywhere. Coke has created a systematic, global innovation machine and the hits, I bet, will keep on coming and ensure there will only be one winner in the next round of the cola wars.

Ritson will return with a new theme for 2014 next week

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