How quaint a career that must seem for today's young marketing practitioners, applying their talents in a world where a coffee-cup sleeve can qualify as an ad medium. They approach the business not only as ad makers but also as a desirable target of the advertising they create. And though it's hip to be niche, they pay a suitable amount of respect to that venerable, if beleaguered, institution-the 30-second TV commercial.
"To say that there's a death of TV [advertising] is kind of silly," says Lee Jennings, 31, an art direction student at the Adcenter of Virginia Commonwealth University. "I'm sure the argument has been made for all kinds of things-death of radio-you've heard it throughout the history of the industry. TV is obviously strong. The funny thing is that people say, 'I hate TV commercials,' and maybe I'm saying this because I'm in the industry, but I think people love them. You mock [commercials]-it's just part of culture. You can't just do away with it. If you did away with it, there'd be a void people would need [to fill] ... I guess it's entertainment."
Fellow Adcenter student Darla Miazdyck, 27, notes: "We always hear [speakers talk about] how much the industry is changing and be prepared for the change and there will no longer be 30-second spots ... I agree it's going to happen, but I don't see it happening tomorrow."
But already, only 55% of consumers pay close attention to TV advertising, according to a survey that consultant Westin Rinehart conducted for this article. "TV by far is the most powerful medium, but it's losing ground as people get information from a variety of sources," says Morris L. Reid, 33, managing director of Westin Rinehart. "From a macro standpoint, TV is still No. 1, but it's not as powerful as it used to be." Mr. Reid says that people in his age group rely on three media outlets-PDA, cell phone and Internet.
Ms. Miazdyck, who's specializing in strategy at the Adcenter, speaks like the hard-nosed agency exec of the future when she adds: "There's no way for clients to measure nontraditional advertising yet, and with the limited experience I have working, clients aren't really open to change. ... it's going to take a lot longer for the nontraditional movement to really kick in."
You don't have to specialize in ad strategy to know that value equation. Christian Liu, 28, who worked as an art director at an agency in Sao Paolo and recently graduated from the Miami Ad School, says that guerrilla media are a plus but print and TV will remain the main ad platforms, noting, "They're still the media that pay the bills."
a viral affliction
But for how long? Young adfolk are adjusting their minds and talent to the "viral" affliction now hitting the 30-second spot. "Everyone talks about the 30-second spot dying and how it's going to go away, and that's kind of exciting because we can do all these other cool little things [but] you're not reaching huge amounts of people all at once," says Mark Sikes, 31, who just a couple months ago got a job as an art director at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco. "When you get rid of the 30-second spot, you are forced to look at those niches ... I don't see why you couldn't do multiple campaigns targeted to specific audiences. ... Why can't you talk to multiple groups of audiences in more concentrated form?"
Mr. Sikes, a graduate of the Portfolio Center in Atlanta, has done some work on the Hewlett-Packard Co. account during his short time at Goodby-on interactive elements of the campaign.
Many won't shed tears as the :30 grows more feeble. Ms. Miazdyck, who holds a degree in marketing from the University of Lethbridge in Alberta and now works part time at the Martin Agency as an account planner, says: "It doesn't scare me where advertising is going. If anything, it fascinates me because I find the 30-second commercial and the two-page print ad limiting in what we can think of."
Mr. Sikes adds: "Because there aren't [just] three networks and cable is so fragmented, why stick to the same models? It amazes me we still abide by the same setup that existed back in the '60s. It's an exciting time. ... You have to get their attention, but it really puts your creativity to the test."
The ad schools are tracking along with the changes. They're offering classes in nontraditional advertising, and students are being asked to think in new ways. Mr. Jennings says it's not unusual to get a syllabus that says students will not be doing print ads or TV spots.
The change is often being prompted by ad industry veterans. One of them is Rick Boyko, who became the Adcenter's managing director in 2003 after three decades working for agencies, including as chief creative officer of Ogilvy & Mather North America and co-president of Ogilvy's New York office. "It's pretty obvious that the industry is going through changes. ... You can see the trends, and see that more and more there are other ways to communicate," Mr. Boyko says.
"You can definitely teach them to look at things in a new way, and we're doing that," he says. "The students take up the challenge of solving the problem in more ways thanyou think they would."
new skill sets
But it takes a 29-year-old to assert flatly: "The entire rubric of the communication channel is changing. It's going to require skill sets from the practitioners but also new groups within that traditional realm-not only the creative agencies but also the media agencies themselves. ... there will soon be a day when it's no longer 'emerging' media, it's just another form of media."
That's Scott Witt, who holds the title of digital group director at Publicis Groupe's MediaVest, New York. Mr. Witt, with a background in English comp, marketing and economics from Nebraska Wesleyan University in Lincoln, now oversees Coca-Cola City, a dedicated unit at MediaVest that's responsible for about 20 Coca-Coca Co. brands.
"There isn't a practitioner in this space who would say the answer to all of our problems is buying more prime time on CBS," Mr. Witt says.
One alternative is product placement in shows, but Ms. Miazdyck sees problems down the road with that tactic. She says many viewers now don't look for product placement so it's not a big deal, but in 15 years-after enduring a constant stream of embedded brands-consumers are going to think marketers are just selling them things in different ways so "we're going to have to keep completely transforming how we communicate with consumers. Product placement is an incredible way to reach people if it's done in moderation, but when you start putting it on every single show and dropping brand names left and right, they're just going to get immune to it." She adds: "I find the [ad] industry has difficulty with moderation."
And guerrilla ploys also can go too far, even for a 25-year-old like Brian Lightbody, an art director who graduated last spring from the School of Visual Arts, New York, and is now busy free-lancing for agencies including Ogilvy and Berlin Cameron/Red Cell. "Guerrilla marketing can be offensive," he says. "It can be intrusive ... I hate when people dress up like bears or something and chase you on the street-sometimes you feel overwhelmed with ads and you just [want to say] 'Please shut up. I need a park that's not owned by a corporation-please, I just want to sit down and not feel like I'm being sold something.' "
In the Westin Rinehart survey, only 5% of respondents found guerrilla marketing tactics to be appropriate, but on-the-street ploys such as giveaways and free samples "are here to stay, particularly in the music business. Everything they do is guerrilla marketing, and others are following suit," Mr. Reid says. "We may not like it, but it's here to stay. Everyone likes free stuff. If anything, it will become more aggressive."
Viral tactics can be done on a small scale, Mr. Sikes says. They reach fewer people but engage them a little more intensely. "We all have to figure out how to reach people," he says. "There's not like one giant solution. It's not going to switch over from TV to this. It's going to be multiple avenues, but hopefully they'll be cheaper than TV."
For 27-year-old Doug Melville, that avenue is labeled lifestyle. "Everyone is trying to capture the lifestyle," says Mr. Melville, who as CEO of two companies he founded, Off the Bench Marketing and URCute Entertainment, specializes in event-based marketing aimed at the college demo. "If you're a marketer and you're not capturing the lifestyle of your product, the long-term success is not going to be that great because students right now are buying into lifestyle."
Mr. Melville cites Nike as a brand that is a lifestyle. "Every product from water to gum to alcohol is becoming a lifestyle," he says. Cell phones are a lifestyle. Processed food is a lifestyle.
Speaking about the world of a young person like himself, Mr. Melville says: "If you were sitting in an office with all white walls, any image would be interesting. But the second you wake up in the morning, there are 100 commercials on, there are 200 channels to pick from on top of ads on the Internet, 20 ads on radio. You really have to portray a lifestyle or it gets lost in the shuffle."
But, cautions 23-year-old Kevin Buth, a design student at the Portfolio Center, there's a balance between giving young consumers something they will respond to that they think is new and cool, while also staying true to what made a brand successful in the beginning. Marketers must "be honest with the consumer and let their products sell themselves," he says.
Even a thirtysomething like Mr. Jennings, who had a couple marketing jobs before he came to the Adcenter, questions the wisdom of seeing every space as an ad medium. "I know when someone is looking through a magazine, they're willing to accept a certain amount of advertising," he says. "But the challenge is do they really want an ad in their face while they're going to the bathroom. What's acceptable? I think it's going to get worse before it gets better."
The location of the ad remains key. Mr. Jennings sees his challenge as: "From the beginning, the idea has to be about where [the ad is] going to be, because if I have some great idea for print ads, is that going to make a great urinal ad? Probably not. It has to be relevant to its location."
Media planning must be part of the process from the beginning, says Mr. Jennings. That makes the art director and copywriter think differently too-right from the start, they must be thinking about where their ad will appear.
"You can plaster [ads on] anything, and just because there's more stuff out there to plaster-using cell phones, using text messaging, using Internet, using all these hundreds of thousands of cable channels-does that mean you should?" he asks. "And if you did, is anybody going to pay any attention anymore? I think it's watering down a lot of things in addition to having a lot of opportunities."
Mr. Buth sums it up by saying that advertising is "a business and it's art, but if I don't understand where my creation is going and I don't understand where it's going to benefit the consumer most and benefit the company most, I'm pretty much going to be obsolete."
But if ad makers are going to narrow down their media, the one to concentrate on might well be the mobile phone. When Westin Rinehart asked respondents whether in the next few years they anticipated spending more or less time with various media, only one medium came close to 100% of respondents spending more time with it: 96% of respondents overall said they'd be spending more time using cell phones for text messaging and other 3G functions; among 11-to-17-year-olds, 100% said they'd be spending more time with their phones.
"Once you're able to move to 3G as in Europe, then what else do you need if you have a device with e-mail, TV, Web and can make phone calls?" asks Mr. Reid, who during the Clinton administration was the personal aide to Commerce Secretary Ron Brown. "I would tell Apple to integrate that into the iPod. What else do you need?"
Motorola planned to unveil this month its first phones carrying Apple Computer's iTunes software.
"If [marketers] don't have a mobile strategy, they're going to lose," Mr. Reid says.
But even as educators and their students try to map an ever-changing media landscape, the one fixed landmark remains the importance of the brand and the message it has for the consumer.
"We have not only an evolving consumer, but we have an informed and empowered consumer, and a very fickle consumer," Mr. Witt says. "The demands that consumers are making on their products and brands are greater today than they ever have been."
At the very core of the ad business, the "big idea still reigns supreme regardless of what you think and how you think of executing it," says Jason Campbell, 23, who will graduate in May from the School of Visual Arts. "The idea is still going to be the most important thing."
Illustrating a point ...
If a picture is worth 1,000 words, then here are 5,000 more words, courtesy of ad students specializing in art direction and illustration. They were offered the opportunity to express in their artwork the challenges they see ahead in the ad world-a kind of pictorial interview.
"I don't know if there's really any other choice but to mix commerce and art. I don't think there's an option. There certainly are people who do art and are able to survive, but it seems like the movement of things is that they're blending together."
"Advertising will have to adapt to change; it's an idea-driven industry that relies on new thinking. However, we can't lose our way in the process. There is a level of humanity involved in being able to know what drives people in general."