That's how my boss, Ad Age editor Jonah Bloom, summed up Jeff Zucker's depiction of the network in his Q&A with Donny Deutsch. I missed half of the session thanks to New York City subway's difficulty in negotiating rain and the unwieldy security lines here at the Time-Life Building, but I think Jonah was right-on. Not only did Mr. Zucker describe how NBC is doing away with the bells-and-whistles notion of the upfront, but he even went so far to describe the network as "a media and marketing conference." I do think that's a change, at least a nominal one.
I was also really interested in his past-tense-heavy characterization of the YouTube-Hulu debate, which boiled down to whether it's better to partner with a massive video-sharing site or to build your own. NBC, of course, went with the latter, and its site, Hulu, recently debuted. But here's how he summed up his take on YouTube today. "We thought that [YouTube] wasn't going to put in place the filtering we thought was necessary. ... We thought it's important to control our own destiny and have a safe haven for advertisers."
I'm not sure if it's worth diagramming sentences and reading a lot into verb tense, but I do know that by some counts YouTube is streaming one-third of all videos on the web. That's scale.
When technology fails
In her inaugural panel performance at Ad Age, retail reporter Natalie Zmuda was victim of a technological breakdown when the doohickeys that allow the audience to respond to questions posed on stage failed to work. Just yesterday these devices were described as the iPhones of the genre because they act not only as text devices but as portable microphones. Natalie recovered nicely, though, and her panel on retail was engaging.
Two high points stick out:
First, Trevor Kaufman, CEO of Schematic, described the landscape and challenge for contemporary marketers as briefly and clearly as I've seen it done. There are three kinds of media: proprietary (websites and e-mails lists, i.e., the stuff you own); earned (the stuff people say about you on message boards and social networks); and paid (advertising). And you need to manage it all holistically, finding the metrics and organizational structures that make most sense. That sums it all up for me.
Second, Tom Nicholson of IconNicholson's presentation on social retailing, which showed how an almost Digg/Hot or Not model can be brought to bear for consumers as they're deciding whether to buy clothes. Brilliant stuff.
Social networks being used by Digital Conference attendees:
To buy or not to buy
Do social networks offer just another media-buying opportunity for marketers or do they offer something deeper? Michael Barrett of Fox Interactive media talked about the targeting opportunities a network like MySpace offers. Fellow panelist David Armano of Critical Mass was having none of it. "We're just talking about advertising here. It's all about, How do we monetize? How do we advertise?" And where did the marketer on the panel, Philips' Eric Plaskonos, come down on this? "I'm not an advocate for scaleable marketing on social networks, for getting a lot of impressions. That defeats the purpose of these networks."
To me this is a central question in advertising. Media owners are obsessed with monetizing their enormous traffic through ads, but whether there's any real reason for marketers and agencies to be aiding and abetting with paid-media models really remains to be seen.
The 'Stitch and Bitch Club'
That's Linnea Johnson's nickname for her consumer-services function at Unilever, which gets up close and personal with complaints about the package-good maker's broad portfolio of products. She was on an energetic panel moderated by Nielsen's Pete Blackshaw about the intersection of marketing and customer service, though her experience suggested that intersection maybe hasn't happened yet. The very candid Ms. Johnson said she wouldn't feel comfortable putting Unilever brand managers or agencies in a call center and that she even once offered her offices as a place for an executive committee off-site, provided the committee members manned a phone. "Not one of them did it," she said.
She also said she wouldn't mind having some of Unilever's massive media budget to do streaming video and put up consumer photos, and she expressed envy of a fellow panelist, Rick Clancy of Sony, suggesting he has a top-down mandate she doesn't. "It's really a disservice," she said.
The flip side of things is Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos.com, a site I haven't used but am now really curious about. He said Zappos takes the money it would have used on paid media and pours it into the customer experience. That means free overnight shipping, call centers and warehouses open 24/7. It's a bet that growth will be driven by positive word of mouth and loyal customers. It seems to be working. This year, Zappos will do more than $1 billion in gross sales.
Zappos is premised on customer service; Unilever isn't and of course it is a much bigger, much more complex company. So this looks like a question of DNA and, if you're Unilever, how do you overcome it and install at least an element of service?
Last panel: What's Next?
After two days of conferencing, I'm short on vitamin D and attention-span, so here's a rundown of forecasting by a panel of emerging media thinkers:
Moderator Steve Rubel, Edelman: the embeddable web (making content smaller and portable); attention, scarcity thereof; digital curation; collaboration.
Josh Stylman, Reprise Media: thinking about search further upstream, because people use it throughout the consideration cycle
Craig Daitch, Digitas: Asynchronous web surfing, which I need to have explained on me, and return on influence, i.e., why are people clicking on a particular video.
Dan Hodges, Nokia Interactive: Mobile as the glue holding different kinds of interactions together.
Mat Zucker, Agency.com: packets; medium-sized, often private applications, games or other items that can be shared with a group, not on a one-to-one way (like a banner) or one-to-many way (like a destination or site) but somewhere in between.