We love awards in advertising and awards motivate agency behavior and recommendations. Perhaps it is time for Cannes to have a new award. An award for the most accurate, careful and ethical use of advertising. Not PSA’s, but an award for consumer brands that have decided to take into consideration all the potential effects of their marketing and have built a plan that carefully avoids abusing the power of advertising. This would need to be the pinnacle of achievement. So what is nicer than titanium? Unobtainium? Kryptonite? Crystal? I sort of like that. Crystal clear. No blemishes. And here is what I’d like to see entered next year.
Advertising to adults is not without controversy. And although I’m concerned about consuming for consumption’s sake, I am able to see the role advertising plays in moving our economy forward and the benefit to society that can be created. However, when it comes to advertising to children, it’s much more difficult to find any redeeming value created by the activity. In fact, to the contrary, it is easy to see how destructive the process is to most of us.
First, let’s take a few words to get into the brain of a child. As we all know from experience, children are not small grownups. Their brains are fundamentally different, the big difference being that right hemisphere brain development doesn’t really kick in until the age of twelve. This is important because without the right hemisphere involved, all decisions and concepts are very black and white. If you have kids, you’ve experienced this: The child that learns at school that drinking can be dangerous and suddenly thinks that glass of wine is going to kill dad. All things go into a category of good or bad; there are no grey areas for children. And this leaves them fundamentally and developmentally unequipped to deal with advertising in the way an adult can. If you sit with a child and watch TV commercials, you will notice how vigorously effective the messages are. “I want that.” “Can I have that?” “I need that.” These words come out of their mouths with seemingly every message, and they mean it and they believe it and they are defenseless against it. And that is the issue.
So what if we stopped it? What if we decided that advertising to children was something none of would engage in anymore? Perhaps because we legislate it, or perhaps because we just decide to police ourselves. We can get into the how a bit later. But what if we stopped? What would happen? A lot of things would happen and almost all seem to be for the good of society.
Let’s start with mom and dad and the relationship with their kids. Without the messages suggesting to kids that they eat differently than how mom and dad would like them to eat, trips to the grocery store and meals at home would almost certainly contain dramatically less complete and total meltdowns. Imagine a relationship with kids where moms and dads aren’t caving in to the constant pressure their kids apply to get what they want. Helping to create this pressure is why companies advertise to a group of people who have neither jobs nor income. And it is working. More than 10 percent of 12 to 13-year-olds admitted to asking their parents more than 50 times for products they have seen advertised. That fact alone should get every parent to sign a petition. For the potential to have a little quiet time, if nothing else. But the statistics go beyond bugging mom and dad and into a much sadder place. More than half of children surveyed (53%) said that buying certain products makes them feel better about themselves. This is a pattern we all need less of, not more. So a ban on advertising to kids would improve the child-parent dynamic, as well as improve our kids’ self-esteem. So far, so good.
But without all this ad-supported revenue there would be much less programming developed and broadcast for children. Whole networks like Nick might cease to exist. Horror of horrors! Children would be forced off the couch and made to think of new ways to entertain themselves. Some of those games might include moving the body. These days they would probably just go online or play video games but at least that takes a bit of interaction. Kids would mourn the demise of the Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon, but they’d get over it. So I guess I can live with that, too.
But a ban would mean less dollars for the advertising industry. Oh, lord we can’t have that! Well, in my experience this isn’t really what happens. The dollars get moved; they don’t go away. Now, if you specialize in advertising to kids then, yes, your business would be a casualty. My bet is, those people would find their talents put to use in ways they would actually prefer in the end. The advertising industry as a whole doesn’t all agree and in fact, get quite excited, about doing even more adverting to children. Chinese children.
In his book, Kids as Customers, James McNeal estimates that there are about three quarters of a billion children in other industrialized countries: “Letting one’s marketing imagination run wild for a moment, if these children spend only half of what U.S. children spend, their market potential would be equal to around $86.5 billion.” When this kind of money is involved ethics and morality often become more difficult to measure.
Sweden, Ireland, Greece, Italy, Denmark and Belgium all have bans on advertising to children under 12. It is interesting to note that in Sweden, the reason given is the way a child’s brain works, it is “not fair play.” I agree. But even in Europe where bans do exist, the amount of money involved has made progress slow and sometimes nonexistent. A proposed ban in the UK was blocked as recently as ‘08. The actual dollars spent advertising to children is difficult to come by and the figures I’ve been able to find vary, but a little over $15 billion annually is a moderate estimate. It is shocking to realize that is about 250% more than it was as recently as 1992. To me these numbers seem scary.
So, what about the companies that rely on advertising to kids as a way to drive sales? What happens to them? My sense is that they will be fine, too. They’ll probably sell a little less and they’ll probably have to make the products a bit healthier since it will be mom and dad that they’re trying to convince. But they will be fine. In fact, I think they’ll feel better. My old client at Burger King used to talk about pulling all the kids’ advertising as a way to garner some positive press and put pressure on McDonald’s to do the same, knowing that it was a much, much bigger part of McDonald’s business. My guess would be they debate this at McDonald’s, too, but I have no way of knowing that. The trouble that arises when ethics and money place pressure in opposite directions is that no company feels it can afford to go first. The loss of competitive advantage would be too much.
Then the question is one of adding a bit more pressure to the ethical side of the scale. I’ve been scratching my head for some potential solutions and it’s a sticky problem, but I’m not completely convinced it is hopeless just because market forces have proven that there is big money to be made by spending billions to influence our innocent and defenseless offspring. The first and most obvious solution is a ban not unlike other developed European nations. Our heavily lobbied politics makes this seem an unlikely scenario, at first glance. Unless the lobbyists were for some reason asked to do the opposite of what we might expect. It is actually beginning to make more sense for fast food lobbyists to actually ask for the ban. They need the publicity that puts them on the right side of these issues and, if legislation is created, it makes a new and even playing field where there is no disadvantage created.
Perhaps our own industry could lobby to stop the behavior. God knows advertising people need the good press.
Another potential bit of leverage might be for ethical and fair use of advertising to become a common way companies are rated. Today we see more and more data made available in the areas of a company’s impact on health, sustainability and the ethical treatment of workers and even animals. How about ethical treatment of our most precious resource? Our children. What is your score on fair and ethical use of advertising? This can be measured and quantified and it can become part of the buying decision. Not just for people with children, but for all consumers. Advertisers would reconsider quickly if they noticed that people we’re buying their product as adults because they advertised to kids.
So my hope for the 2011 Cannes Crystal award is some brilliant agency works with their client to pull all the advertising to children and takes home the Cannes Crystal Grand Prix Lion in the inaugural year. And that would be the end of that. Because as soon as you can win an award for it, we ad folk are all over that shit.
Most people in advertising have a list of categories they will and will not work on, and it evolves. My list has evolved and probably will continue to. At the beginning of my career, I wouldn’t work on any pharma. I probably would have worked on tobacco given the opportunity but luckily for me I got the opportunity to work against tobacco and I got one hell of an education in the process. My time working on TRUTH, the youth anti-tobacco campaign, taught me a lot about early brain development and soon I added to my personal list that I wouldn’t do any advertising that targeted kids (defined by most brain scientists as under 12). As we took on the BK account, we politely offered that we could not work on that part of their marketing. And in subsequent years declined multiple invitations to work on the kids business. Once one of our adult spots for Sponge Bob Squarepants (hard to believe, but young adults love Sponge Bob) was repurposed and re-edited by another agency to add toy footage and aired on Nick. I was livid and we got it pulled. The client owns the work, but pulled it out of respect for the relationship. We all work to bring our personal values in line with our professional life and there are shades of grey to these decisions. But shades of grey don’t exist in our society’s decision to allow millions to be spent targeting an audience that is literally and physiologically incapable of protecting and defending themselves from a message probably doesn’t have their very best interest at heart. It’s not a matter of the rightness or wrongness of the products being advertised. That is a grey area. But there are children and there are adults. And the duty of adults in society is to protect it’s children. And that is black and white.
Forward thinking marketers leverage the power of social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and more to connect to consumers in a more personal and meaningful way. That’s why Experian Simmons is focusing on social networking in this issue of Consumer Insights, featuring the freshest insights available from the latest Simmons New Media Study.
The 2010 Social Networking Report provides the hard data behind this consumer revolution, including the fact that fully 66% of online Americans use social networking sites today, up from just 20% in 2007. Social networking is an increasingly addictive activity, with nearly half of those who access such sites (43%) reporting that they visit them multiple times per day. While users of social networking sites may have initially signed up to better keep in touch with friends, a growing number say they now use sites like Facebook to connect with family members. An astounding 70% of social networkers keep in touch with family via their various online networks, up from 61% a year ago.
Fully two-thirds of all online adults today have visited a social networking site in the last 30 days, up from 53% in 2008 and 20% in 2007. Social networks have most thoroughly penetrated the young adult market, as nearly 9-in-10 online 18-to 34-year-olds visit such sites today. But even older Americans are tapping into social networks, with 41% of online adults age 50 and older making monthly visits to sites like Facebook, MySpace and Twitter.
The rise of social networking tracks closely with that of Facebook. As of April 26, 2010, 46% of the U.S. online adult population reported having visited Facebook in the past 30 days.
While keeping in touch with others is an important part of social networking, the popularity of games like Farmville and Mafia Wars illustrate that fun is a big part of the appeal of social networking.
Whether it’s keeping in touch with others, playing games, debating politics or any of the other reasons people use social networking sites, it cannot be denied that there’s a sense of addictiveness to it all. Visiting social networking sites multiple times a day is up 28% over last year, while less frequent visits are down across the board.
As social networking sites extend their reach across generations, Americans are increasingly using such sites to connect with more than just their friends. Today, 17% of social networkers communicate with their parents via those sites and 22% connect with their kids, up from 9% and 15%, respectively, a year ago.
An astounding two-thirds of social networking site visitors (68%) say they have shown their support of a product, service, company or musical group by becoming a “fan” or a “friend” on a social networking site. One year earlier, only 57% of social networkers had publicly declared their “like” for a product, service, company or musical group.
Knowing that social networkers are comfortable connecting with products and brands they support, it’s important to understand which brands have the best opportunity to connect with this group. Top retail brands among Facebook users, for instance, include H&M, Hot Topc and Forever 21. Specifically, Facebook users are full twice as likely as the average American adult to shop at H&M. Twitter visitors are 3.7 times more likely to shop at Nordstrom.
Heavy users of social networking sites are primarily concentrated in the Northwest and markets that are heavily influenced by major colleges or universities.
No longer an option: mobile websites
My mind has been focused on the adoption and usage of smartphones this week, due to the impending launch of Apple’s iPhone 4G. In the U.S., most mobile users are looking to smartphones for their next purchase/upgrade (of those who do not already own a smartphone). Currently, over 25% of the U.S. population have smartphones. More noteworthy, Nielsen predicts that by the end of the 2011, more U.S. cell phone subscribers will own smartphones rather than feature phones.
Nielsen also reports that only 3% of smartphone owners utilize their device only for voice use. Thus, we have a booming ownership group leveraging the device for photos, Internet access, applications, location-base profiling, and more. In my own studies, one of the most prominent disappointing factors these users experience when utilizing the device is the inability to purview a website. Many users I have spoken to become frustrated when accessing a website remotely, only to experience a site unreadable (scalable) or sensible for a mobile reader. Companies, organizations and brands can no longer ignore this pertinent touchpoint. Mobile websites need to be adopted on universal scale instead of viewed as an ancillary website offering. True, mobile websites may not be getting the attention as apps are today, but they must not be overlooked nor forgotten if your consumers are accessing the Internet via their mobile devices.
· Mobile websites are needed by all, not only the large companies/brands nor early adopters. Prospects, readers, consumers are all accessing the Internet via smartphones. This is not a venue for only large companies; it is an important media form for all companies (big or small). For some, this even becomes your phone book listing that lives right at the source of the phone. Be present and “brand alive” where your target market is.
· Your audience is no longer tethered to a computer for information. Your prospects, consumers and users have busy lives. They may not have the luxury of spending time at home purveying the web before they venture on a shopping trip or need to make a phone call. They may be in a discussion with a friend or family member while away from home that demands the need for information. We live in a 24-hour news cycle where information is demanded to be at one’s fingertips. Be accessible where (and when) they are.
· Your audience reaches out to your company/brand on their smartphone. Convenient. Transportable. Simply put: the smartphone lives where your consumer lives. It is crucial to align the purpose of a mobile website with the need of your consumer: Why would she reach out to the company, product, or brand on her phone? Where is she in her daily routine? Where is she location-wise (near store, in store, at the office, at a coffee shop, etc.)? What is her primary need? What is her frame of mind? How can you solve her problem, make her day easier, and delight her? Understand and be her.
· It is more useful to your shopper. The shopper is increasingly sophisticated in her use of technology. Her decision-making path has been altered. She now seeks information outside of the home. She is able to fact check product claims, product compare, price compare, and even order online through her smartphone device. If your website is not easily accessible, nor readable, she simply moves on to a competitor site. In turn, that competitor is more likely to become her go-to resource and win her business. Be supportive when she needs you.
· There is a new generation growing up on smartphones. We speak often about digital natives, the generation that has never known a time without computers nor the Internet. Digital behavior is intrinsic to them. When on your next public outing, take a long look around yourself, the teens of today are texting, uploading photos, accessing Facebook, and searching for movie listings on their smartphones. Be your future.
(Post by Anne Gibson)
I’ve done this search dozens of times since December and have shared it in slides many times since. It’s a search that compares the world wide search volume on Google for new media, web 2.0, and social media. What the above graph shows is that we’re at an inflection point in the language we use to describe the macro trends of innovation on the web. I believe it’s the indicator that we’re in the 3rd Era of the Web and it’s The Era of Social Media.
Observations about the chart
Media adoption is interesting (see the bottom part of the chart called “News references”). The media never really adopted the term New Media. Likely because New Media was insulting to the existing media as it painted them as old media. Media did start to adopt Web 2.0, but it was late in the game likely because the term was too obtuse to catch on more quickly and broadly. Social media, however, has been very popular for news outlets to cover. In fact, it has a nearly linear rise with the use of the term generally. Interestingly, nothing has been more disruptive to established media outlets than social media, but those that are embracing and even reinventing themselves are doing well (such as the NYTimes.com).
What’s also interesting is that the decline of Web 2.0 and the rise of social media are connected. Since Facebook has hit the scene, the original social media tools have peaked in usage: blogs, wikis, forums and RSS.
Facebook is King
In the face of the explosion of social media, no place has more interest than Facebook. Facebook is so popular that no other search term in Google beats the number of searches for Facebook. Go ahead, try to find something bigger than Facebook. I’ve put in Google, YouTube, Twitter, augmented reality, porn, oil spill, Tiger Woods, soccer/football, iPhone, and more. Nothing comes close. The closest I found is the word “the“.
It’s not just searches
Social is showing dominance in traffic and usage in addition to attracting the lion’s share of search attention. Compete.com is also showing Facebook’s dominance over Google and Yahoo! as the mosted visited website.
Comscore shows that the rise of social pulled traffic from portals.
That is also consistent with Hitwise’s findings that Facebook is now sending more traffic to news sites than Google is.
More amazing stats about the meteoric rise of social
In case none of that convinced you that social is more than a trend, here are some more quick stats:
- 3 out of 4 Americans use social technology
- 2/3 of the global internet population visit social networks
- Social Media has overtaken porn as the #1 activity on the Web (more popular than email)
- And, it’s growing at 3X the rate of the overall Internet
First, this is just the beginning. I’ve used the crappiest analysis to forecast how far out this trend should go. Assuming that social media has a similar hype cycle to Web 2.0, it should peak around the beginning of 2012 with the next phase of the web taking over around 2015 (see chart below). That said, there’s reason to believe the social media era will last longer and have a higher peak.
What all of this means to business is that social is the innovation to invest in. I’ll be writing more posts about how to invest in social. Next up: News Feed Optimization (NFO). Since Facebook gets more visits and sends more traffic to news sites already, then developing a news feed strategy is critical for traffic dependent sites. NFO is the new SEO.
This is awesome.