Sorry, I’m not Don Draper from Mad Men. But I’m an ad guy. I teach advertising in the grad school at USC and, yes, I am a twitterholic, @hankwasiak.
My career in advertising started in the Mad Men era and I am fortunate to still be doing what I love at The Concept Farm, a very cool creative company located on .85 acres in the heart of Chelsea in New York City. I’ve gone from a Mad Man to a Happy Farmer and along the way have lived through just about every shift and change in the advertising business over the past five decades.
And, coincidentally I’m right in the middle of putting together a syllabus for my class, picking a text book, and selecting case studies. It became obvious pretty quickly that the way business schools teach advertising has not yet caught up with actuality and, in many ways, is a metaphor for the mindset of Madison Avenue today. All of this has mashed up in to a point of view and perspective on where social media is taking the advertising business.
The Times They Are a Changing — Fast
Unlike the conventional doom and gloom wisdom about the death of advertising as we know it, I can honestly say that my enthusiasm for the future of advertising has never been higher. This enthusiasm and optimism is fueled by social media. Social media is the game changer, the killer app that is reshaping Madison Avenue at its very core in three major ways:
- The fundamentals of the marketing mix
- The nature of how advertising is supposed to work
- The measurement metrics of success
This is big time change. It’s powerful, exciting stuff. It’s all happening at once and it's happening fast. Now is the time for Madison Avenue to re-invent itself by focusing on the endless upside possibilities opened up by social media. And, to do this, today’s Mad Men must change the way they see social media because the term social media has becomes a self-limiting frame of reference. To put what’s next into perspective, it’s helpful to look back.
Back To The Future? No Way
My first job in advertising was in 1965 at an ad agency called Benton & Bowles as one of those account men you see at Sterling Cooper on Mad Men. I often get asked if the show is an accurate reflection of what it was really like. In most respects it is. Sterling Cooper is eerily similar to Benton & Bowles. The client situations, office dynamics, and, of course, the drinking, sex, and smoking are all spot on. Except when I arrived, most of us were smoking something a lot more stimulating than Lucky Strikes.
Mad Men is a great show that beautifully captures a time when Madison Avenue was seen as a trendsetting arbiter of American values and these Mad Men showed us who we wanted to be and told us what to buy. And, for the most part, we loved it. While it’s clear that Madison Avenue as Don Draper knew it is gone forever, the fundamentals of the advertising business have remained essentially the same, until now. Just about the time that advertising was catching up with how to harness the power of an Internet-driven digital media world, along comes social media. Social media has created a “watershed moment” for Madison Avenue because of these fundamental systemic changes.
The Pillars of the Marketing Mix: The 4 Ps
Four fundamental pillars of the marketing mix have been embedded in marketing plans and practices since the 1960s: Product. Price. Place. Promotion. As relevant as ever. So, when social media came along the conventional wisdom was to see it as a new form of advertising — another way to “reach” consumers. While treating social media as a subset of advertising might have been okay initially, it grossly undervalues social media’s real role today. So, if social media is more than media, what has it become? Social media has morphed into the fifth pillar “P” of the marketing mix: People. Today a marketer must have a People Strategy developed in concert with its Product Price, Place, and Promotion strategies.
Time Magazine named YOU as its Person of The Year in 2006. The power and potential of what that cover foretold is just now coming into its own. When People Strategy becomes as fundamentally important as the other four Ps,it changes the way you strategize, organize, monetize, and commercialize a business. This isn’t semantics. It’s fundamental change.
Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, is a person I admire. He is a visionary who saw this potential long before everyone else and he nailed it with this quote: "Embarking on social media strategy to help with marketing is like embarking on a facial muscle strategy to help with smiling.”
The 5 Ps. It is fundamental systemic change.
The Advertising Communication Model Has Expanded And Stretched
For decades, Mad Men have used a simple, four-letter shorthand for what advertising has to accomplish to be effective: AIDA – Attention. Interest. Desire. Action. Not bad but then but not good enough today. Social media has added two other dimensions that are critical to success. The first is the letter “E” for Engagement. Consumers welcome getting involved with products and brands on many levels — on their own terms. People want to talk amongst themselves before they interact with a brand or a business.
The other dimension is the letter “S” for Sustainability. Today ideas and messages must be crafted to also encourage shareability so they sustain themselves well beyond their initial delivery and media contexts.
So now the shorthand should look something like this: A+IDEAS. They are connected and interdependent. Unless creative ideas and programs organically lend themselves to this construct they will miss the mark.
A New Success Ethic Has Changed the Metrics of Effectiveness
And again, social media has been the catalyst for much of this change. This really came into dramatic focus for me earlier this month when I had the opportunity to be a real-time blogger embedded at the World Business Forum in New York City. CEO after CEO and some of the best global thought leaders talked about the future of business. Here are the relevant highlights.
The hard assets that are traditionally used to gauge the strength and value of a business are as important as ever. However, they are the “table stakes” of today — the costs of entry. Soft assets are increasingly seen as the business differentiators of the future. Here’s a sampling of the descriptions and comments that permeated their talks and filled the blogs.
- Values based business – culture
- Purpose driven marketing – passion
- Trust built on transparency – truth
- Corporate responsibility that fosters collaboration
- “Healthy” companies that act “human”
- Motivation that creates aspiration
If these words and expressions sound familiar, they should. This IS the language of social media. And, these differentiators are changing the way socially responsible businesses see “profit.” Now there are three tiers of profit that matter.
- Dollar profit – The fiscal performance of the business
- Emotional profit – The rewards for employees and stakeholders
- Greater good profit – The positive impact on the community
These are major, important, enlightened shifts that are taking place in big, medium, and small businesses everywhere. Mad Men can lead by listening to them.
Mad Men&Women 2.0
This convergence of changes brought about by social media ( the five pillar “Ps”, the new communications model, enlightened metrics of success) has created a perfect storm for a mindset makeover on Madison Avenue. My top five thought starters:
Spend as much time talking with people as creating ads to reach them and shift from shouting and selling to sharing and helping.
Suppress the urge to say “we can do it all” and deliver the best of what you do best. Protect the integrity of your ideas, not your “turf.”
Embrace collabetition. Collaborate with like-minded competitors to create and deliver A+IDEAS for clients. Fair compensation will follow from value added.
Move from a master of the universe mentality to thinking like a maestro conducting a symphony orchestra of communication “instruments.”
The quality of an ad agency’s culture and values should be as visible and award-winning as its work.
Don Draper would not like what he sees on Madison Avenue today. But I sure do. We’re on the cusp of big change. As with most disruptive change, innovation and bold new thinking usually come from the fringe and then go mainstream. I’m very excited and grateful to be part of what’s next. And, I can’t wait to get in front of my class at USC and see what they have to teach me.
Also, we are launching a new regular feature series in the Video section of Blogcritics called Mad Men Confidential featuring real Mad Men commenting on advertising and AMC's Mad Men TV show. Informative. Entertaining. Provocative. True.
Check it out and stay tuned.