Like those early pioneers who helped open the American frontier, Burnett's veteran media tracker has been charged with a mission of exploration: to take the point on the agency's multidisciplinary team that is venturing into the interactive media terrain; to report on the activities of the early settlers of that new territory; and to bring back news of the surprises and opportunities that lie ahead for advertisers and their agencies.
And make no mistake, signs of potential opportunity and challenge are cropping up fast and furious -- and are especially crucial for agency giants like Leo Burnett, which boasts $2.1 billion in U.S. ad billings and heavyweight clients like Philip Morris Cos., McDonald's Corp., Pillsbury Co., Procter & Gamble Co., United Airlines and Reebok International.
Already, Ms. Spittler and the team are confronting a slew of far-reaching issues. They include:
How to deal with an array of new creative challenges that are starting to arise? An interactive media world requires, for example, that creatives give up much of their sense of tight control of the advertising message. In place of the one-way broadcasting of carefully scripted ads, interactivity implies much more of a give and take between advertiser and audience, and represents an entirely new set of creative demands.
What shifts in the mix of skills will be required in ad agencies? Agencies of the future will need, for instance, to have staffs that can offer a deep appreciation of the ways in which computers and information technology can be used. They will need to develop an understanding of customer information databases and how data from different sources can be woven together to better understand the marketplace.
More generally, Burnett's interactive marketing group is confronting fundamental questions about the ways in which advertising and other modes of marketing communications can most effectively be used in an interactive media environment.
I first encountered Jayne Spittler about a dozen years ago when we were members of a panel at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management that discussed the hot media topic of the time: the then-nascent medium of cable TV.
The Chicago native brought an impressive background to that discussion. Before joining Burnett in 1981 as a media research supervisor, she had earned an undergraduate double major in computer science and chemistry from Clarke College in Dubuque, Iowa, followed by a doctorate in mass media from an interdisciplinary program in telecommunications, advertising and journalism at Michigan State University in 1980. She also served a stint as a professor in the telecommunications department at Indiana University.
At Burnett, she has steadily risen through the ranks and currently serves as the agency's VP-director of media research.
In our recent, wide-ranging conversation, Ms. Spittler began by drawing a sharp contrast between the media situation the advertising and marketing community faced a dozen years ago and the challenges confronting it today. Although cable certainly has had an impact during the past decade, the new wave of interactive capabilities, argues the energetically youthful 45-year-old media veteran, represents a much, much greater set of changes and challenges.
Here are some of her thoughts:
Ms. Spittler on regular media being at a crossroads:
We are at a much more significant point in the development of interactive media now than we were 11 or 12 years ago, when we were looking at the future of cable and its potential as an advertising vehicle. Cable is just television, but interactive isn't just another media vehicle. It's a combination of things, and the impact it can have is much more dramatic.
Another thing that is different today is that we are at somewhat of a crossroads-a conjunction of planets-with regular media. On the one hand, there have been technological developments that have brought down the costs and have improved our ability to digitize and compress and store and send [signals]. This is making all these interactive media possible, and there is a new administration in Washington that clearly wants to encourage technological change and is relaxing the regulatory restrictions on things like the merger between Bell Atlantic and [Tele-Communications Inc.].
At the same time, these interactive media are coming along right when people have seen declines in the effectiveness of their traditional [media] tools and are hearing cries for ways to better target their marketing messages. They are looking for ways to move from mass image advertising and [trying to find] tools that will enable them to talk more directly and relevantly with consumers and to develop relationships with them.
On taking the consumer's point of view:
One change that has taken place in our approach [as a result of interactive media] is that we are putting less emphasis on looking at all the different technologies from a technology perspective. We went through numerous schemes and considered whether we should look at things like hardware, software, platforms, delivery systems. But we didn't like any of the schemes because they didn't seem to focus on what was important. We finally decided that the key for us is to look at all of this from the viewpoint of the consumers sitting in their living room or their family room or media den-and we have focused on: What is it going to take to make it work for them? What is the benefit that the consumer will get? How will the consumer use this? What will the consumer expect? And, therefore, what should we be doing with the consumer and what kinds of messages [are likely to be successful]? .|.|.
Then we started saying: What will some of these interactive opportunities mean to our clients? How will they be able to use interactive media as vehicles? What potential does this have to change how we talk to the consumer? What are some marketing efforts that we can't execute well now but that we could if we had interactive media?
On the informational content of ads:
One of the things that we think we can do better [with interactive media] is to provide people with more information about particular products.
Instead of guessing what we should tell them in 30 seconds or 60 seconds on TV, or in the copy that we can put in a page or a spread in a magazine, we will be able to give them a whole lot more information. And not only will we be able to give them more information, but, as interactivity develops so that they are more in control, they will be able to choose what they want.
In a menu-driven interactive system, you can set up things so that people get the specific information that they want, the way they want it.
Rather than have a single 10-minute infomercial about luggage, most of which is likely to not be of interest to any specific viewer, the infomercial material could be broken up into shorter segments. A 2-minute introductory segment about luggage might be followed by a set of viewer options offering more specific information.
If you want more information about soft-sided luggage or if you want packing tips or the location of the nearest dealer, you could go to different places and seek out what you want.
Interactivity is going to take consumers further along the shopping process, so it makes sense that it would be more informational.
On the evolution of Burnett's approach:
My role evolved out of the natural role that the media research group has always had here, which is to monitor all forms of potential advertising for our clients. The idea is to be aware of vehicles, look at trends and do projections as to what we should be pursuing and when should we be pursuing them.
When you look at interactive, though, you quickly see that there are rafts of implications here beyond the typical media issues, so we felt we should bring together a core group of people who would add other kinds of expertise.
We have brought in some of our direct marketing people because they view interactive as the ultimate form of direct marketing, that it is electronic direct marketing and that they need to be there. We make sure that creatives and production people sit on this task force so they can think about how they should go about getting into this and looking at this on behalf of our clients. And we have made sure that our information technology people are involved.
On the new creative challenge:
What does it mean for creative? Are we talking about taking existing creative and just turning it into something or are we talking about doing something entirely new? How much actual interaction will there be?
The thing that creatives initially see as the greatest challenge is they are going to have to give up a lot of control that they used to have. If you do a 30-second TV commercial, it is carefully scripted. It is carefully done on a storyboard; you are in control of every element and how it plays out and what it does and where it goes along the way.
Now, you have to think about how you are going to draw people in and then you have to think about what they want to see, how they want to see it and how you want to display it.
We have people who are into things like interactive music and [computer] games, and they get excited because they see that the things that they do as a hobby are skills that will actually help them [work with the new media].
On shifts in ad agency skills:
The new media environment is seen as causing a shift in the skills needed in the future and will demand a greater familiarity with and understanding of computers and how they can be used.
This does not mean just being able to do word processing; it means a real appreciation of what computers can do. For example, it's a big help in understanding the capabilities of interactive media if you have used your Powerbook or Windows and you're familiar with the way that a menu can be used to bounce around and get from point A to B.
It also is becoming more important to have an understanding of data [resources] and of the manipulation and analysis of databases. How do I take seven different databases and pull them together? How can I piece together information about the cable services that a household orders and combine it with information from magazine subscription lists, from demographic databases and car registration information-and then use all of that to figure out which home would respond best to which message?
The ability to put that together and manipulate it and then analyze it-these are skills that we might not have relied upon before but that we need to rely upon now .|.|.
There also is a whole set of skills, a blend of anthropology and psychology, that are becoming more important. It's the ability to look at people and keep them distinct and be able to see what they do and why they do it. Why did person A pay full price for my cheese and person B buy the generic brand, and yet they live next door to each other-and how do I talk to them differently?
It's the ability to climb into someone's head and understand what motivates them.
On the diverse uses of interactive media:
We have the technology at our fingertips to really customize programming messages and information and to put people in control of what they do on a very, very individualized basis. But mostly, you hear people talking in giant generalizations about what this great superhighway is going to do for us, as though there is one, massive consumer group out there that is going to interact in the same way.
It is ironic that we are gaining the power to individualize delivery, and yet, when we talk about it, we talk about 92 million American homes and how they all are going to react to interactivity and what they all are going to do. Instead, we should be thinking about the people in those 92 million homes as an array of different kinds of people who have different mind-sets and who will use different kinds of services in different ways.
We have been learning that television is not universally [effective with] every kind of consumer, and interactive is going to be even less universal and more diverse.
On early client activity:
Most of our clients who have any glimmer that they might want to do interactive are starting to think about how they can provide more information and put more messages in people's hands, how they can talk more directly to the consumer and how they can establish a relationship with the consumer. How do they control better the information that is given to a particular customer rather than depending on an intermediary like a retailer or the media? And how do they get information back along the way?
This includes clients who sell services, who have high-ticket, more durable kinds of items, who are used to cultivating people and providing them with information.
On the earliest impact:
The interactive format that could have an impact quickest is the informational, interactive kiosk in places like the grocery store, airport, car dealership or McDonald's restaurant. They are easy. They are out there. They are most like what these interactive services are going to look like in two years. If they are done right and are well-programmed so that they interactively provide people with information, entertainment and have tie-ins with vendors, we might start to see some impact from those fairly soon.
One meeting of the task force, for example, featured a lively discussion triggered by the mention of a retail outlet's new computerized bridal registry kiosk that has the customer punch in the bride's name and then prints a list of items for which she is registered.
It could be so much more in its next generation. Once you have pulled up the right name, it could ask you how much were you thinking of spending or what your relationship is to the bride or if you were interested 21
in buying a humorous gift, and then make suggestions based on your answers. There might be a reminder that a starter set of pots and pans happens to be on sale this week. Or maybe there would be brand reminders running across the bottom of the screen.
On the long-term prognosis:
I am still in the camp that it is going to take awhile for all of this to really play out and develop. It is not going to be here in two or three years, even though there are some people who claim that everything is going to fall into place that quickly.
I think that we are looking at a 10- to 15-year time frame before we have a critical mass of people and where it makes sense for a manufacturer or a service provider to dive in and make it really work for their business, as opposed to something with which they want to experiment.
But you will see an early impact on products and services that are marketed to the early adopters who will be excited about this technology. As the workplace continues to become more networked, more computerized, people are becoming much more aware of what can be done, how it can be done, and they start saying, "If I can do this at work, why can't I do it at home? Why can't I grocery shop the same way I search for information or order business products"-especially as more people telecommute and come to use computers at home.
On the difficulty of making predictions:
This is a particularly hard time to be a prognosticator because there is no one clear path ahead. The minute you think you have a handle on it, someone brings up another of these "Well, what about this and what about that?"
I am looking for all kinds of sauces to put on the ground glass from the crystal ball that I am going to have to eat over the next couple of years.
On the challenge of managing interactive advertising:
Fifteen, 20 years ago, television was delivering the messages and doing the job-or we thought it did it. Today, some of our research is saying that the greater the number of different places and ways in which people come into contact with the brand, the more likely they are to buy that brand.
Transpose that to interactive media: There are so many different places and things to do within an interactive environment that a brand that is considering interactive needs to think not only of an infomercial in the video mall or the shopping mall of an interactive TV service, but also needs to think about possibly sponsoring the menu that gets someone there. Maybe also sponsor movies-on-demand.
There might also be programming that they might bring to the party, or they might develop some kind of a game or other places where they might put their message.
If this is all on-demand, you need to be in a lot more places so that people can pick up your messages. You also need to invite people to get further into the process.
The potential of interactive is that you can talk to each different person individually. If you create enough different messages, you can switch them into each person's home individually. And if I speak to them in a relevant way, they would invite me to give them my message .|.|.
It will be a tremendous challenge to figure out how many messages I am going to have and how I am going to do this.
On the role of the ad agency:
I don't know if it all ends up in one place. I would like to think that Leo Burnett is a place that that client would come to learn more about the consumer because that has always been one of our strengths. Our ability to build our brands has been based on our understanding of consumers and what motivates them in a particular category.
I see the role that the agency plays [in interactive media] is to keep everything focused in the midst of all this proliferation and to make sure that we are being true to the consumer and to the brand.
Someone has to integrate all of this; someone has to hold it all together; and there are going to be as many different kinds of solutions as there are businesses. Some clients may choose to be the ones to hold it all together, but others might feel that the agency is the advocate for the consumer, that that is the value that we will provide.
At Leo Burnett, we have had to take a broader look at what advertising is. We did a telephone survey and asked consumers: "What is a coupon? What are sweepstakes? What is a piece of direct mail? What is a logo on an athlete's uniform or a T-shirt or a matchbook?"
To the consumer, it is all advertising, and I don't think that we are playing semantics when, around here, we say it's all advertising.
We have opened our doors to say that you had better be considering all of this and how it all works together. It would be nice if we could be in control of all of it, but if the client says that promotions are something that they are going to control, then our role is to see what recommendations we can make, what information we can provide, so that we are planning it together and so that it fits together.
On futures past:
The ironic thing is that, when I went to graduate school at Michigan State in 1976, I worked on a two-way cable experiment in Rockford [Ill.] that was funded by the National Science Foundation. I was the chief computer programmer involved in developing workplace training for firefighters, who have a lot of downtime. We were studying how they would interact [with the technology] and was it interesting enough and would it help them learn better.
That was back in 1976. You sit here and do the math and it's 18 years later, and we are talking about the same stuff. It was around the time that QUBE [an early interactive cable TV experiment] was started. They thought they had the greatest thing going, but they did not have relevant consumer applications. It was "let's go poll."
Or you can look at something like the Interactive Network: How exciting is it to call the plays before the quarterback snaps the ball? After you do that for a while, you realize that this is probably not the killer application.
The absolutely right question to keep asking is: What is it that people really want to improve? What is going to get them over the next hurdle to use some of these new applications? A lot of people are throwing a lot of technology at very teeny things.
The key to projecting it out is to ask what the benefit to the consumer will be, how consumers will perceive what it means to their lives and what will be the kind of application that catches on.
What will be the evolution and how will it develop? I think that, for a while, it is going to be video-on-demand and home shopping-in some manner, shape or form-and that people then will start to discover other things that can be done.
On things that need to be learned:
To what degree will people be interested in video-on-demand?
What are people willing to pay-and they are not willing to pay a whole lot-and how do you make money on it?
Time Warner says that if they can make money on their video-on-demand on their Full Service Network, they will be happy campers. The home shopping people know how they can make their money, but how you price menu-based services is going to be very different.
Then you get to questions like: How do you do the research and what do you measure?
There is a whole movement beyond GRPs [gross rating points] and impressions. Now I'll be able to tell you who requested something. I can tell you who watched it.
Will we move to a transaction-based-almost a sophisticated version of per-inquiry-kind of advertising? And how do you cost that out, and how do you cost out response rates, and how do you get compensated for all this?
On new-media experiments:
Clients sometimes will look at projects involving the new media as a very traditional sort of market test and ask things like: "What is the control and what are we going to find out, and what are we going to do, and where are we going to go?"
We had a client who wanted to test the same creative in different interactive vehicles. I got sort of apoplectic and called, "Time out." I told them that these particular technologies will change in a year. So we're not doing a traditional copy test. This is testing if this idea is something that will work, something that will catch on.
There is no way that you can set up a standard type of a test where you can hold variables constant. You cannot have a control.
We have to learn which are the relevant questions, then how to get information to answer them-and the questions that are relevant in one interactive application are not relevant to another.
I've found that talking to people about interactive media being in an R&D mode seems to get them over the barrier. I tell them not to look at it as a real-life marketing test but as a technology and consumer-behavior test that will help in the next phase of our interactive futures.M