Book of Tens: Ideas of the Decade

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In 2004, the annual conference of the Association of National Advertisers was abuzz with one concept: "consumer control." Senior executives from companies as diverse as Procter & Gamble, Yahoo and Home Depot were marveling at how the age of interruption and one-way conversations with consumers was over. Of course, this was nothing new. What was being observed was the further acceleration of a trend that had been developing since the internet exploded in popularity in the mid 1990s and began to suck attention away from traditional media forms. By 2004, blogs were just taking off and Facebook and Twitter hadn't been invented. Marketers are still struggling profoundly with not only how to reach consumers who have an endless choice of media, but also how to effectively engage with them when contact is made. You can bet the answers won't be found by the time the next decade is through.

Brand journalism, espoused by former McDonald's CMO Larry Light, might not have caught on among jargonistas the way other ideas have, but it's arguably the most realistic description of marketing today -- perhaps ever. Aligned against venerable bits of marketing doctrine such as unique-selling proposition and the brand positioning, Mr. Light's theory, as he explained it in a 2004 conference, is that "you own your ideas for about an hour and a half." In other words, the associations and meanings around a brand change over time, so marketing has to be nimble, both proactive and reactive, and liberated from the notion that a brand idea can be lodged in a consumer's mind over time. More marketers and agencies should be revisiting Mr. Light's theory now, especially in an age of instant customer feedback.

Another post-interruption marketing notion, branded utility holds that marketers, rather than just flog consumers with product, can create value for them. There are still too few in-market examples, but the ones that do exist are quite powerful. Hyundai's Assurance programs last year, for instance, promised recession-bedraggled car shoppers that if they lost their jobs they could return their cars with no damage to their credit. It was at once an attempt to move metal while at the same time offering very real peace of mind to consumers. Perhaps the greatest -- and most hackneyed -- example is that of Nike Plus, a truly elegant system that allows runners to track their mileage and speed by using their iPods. More case studies are sure to crop up in the next decade as weary consumers help brands that help them.

A far cry from the Don Draper auteur school of advertising, most marketers today don't rely on just ad agencies alone, frequently turning to the wisdom of the crowd to source ideas for campaigns and new products. The now much-overused term "crowdsourcing" -- thought to have been coined in 2006 by Wired Magazine -- has gone from one-off contests staged to give brands a jolt of PR buzz to mass collaboration efforts that allow consumers to affect the look and feel of brands in meaningful ways. The phenomenon caught fire in 2000, with smaller companies such as Jones Soda using its website to poll its young customers about new drink flavors, and it wasn't long before the big guys caught on. Frito Lay's Doritos brand has made an annual tradition out of its consumer-generated Super Bowl spots, while package-goods giant Unilever actually dumped its agency, Lowe, London, so it could crowdsource campaigns.

Technology has enabled marketers to aggregate their own audiences and communities and talk to them directly, without having to pay a media company to, um, mediate. Examples abound. Quicksilver has done surfing videos and surf-culture books for teens, but so have marketers in less sexy spaces. For instance, J&J's Babycenter will get more than 3 million visitors a month. P&G's and Pampers both pull close to a million. Other big brands creating content: Walmart with its money-saving tips channel on YouTube; Grey Goose with its entertainment division; Mtn Dew's record label and blog at; JetBlue with its 1.4 million Twitter followers; Kraft's iFood app; the British Airways travel blogs; and the forthcoming Hasbro network produced by Discovery. The jury's out on what this means for media owners, but it will probably either be a question of collaboration or disintermediation.

PR and advertising long existed in separate siloes -- and in certain organizations they still do. But the realization that earned media -- which is to say, everything from the reportage of professional journalists to the patter of blogs and social networks -- is perhaps more valuable than paid airtime has been crucial to dragging the two rival disciplines closer together. Enlightened agencies such as Crispin Porter & Bogusky and Goodby Silverstein & Partners demand that their ad campaigns contain not just a PR component but also possess qualities that make them talkworthy. Earned media is often thought to be cheaper than paid, but that's probably a myth. And "earned" shouldn't be interpreted as "free." In addition to collapsing siloes, earned media's growing respect will likely mean that more journalists -- faced with a desiccated job market of their own -- will be welcomed into ad agencies.

The long tail is basically a retailing concept that describes the selling of a large amount of different items in small quantities. A way to appeal to "a long tail" of niches, it's aligned against the notion of a hit -- or a single item that's sold in massive quantities. Wired Editor Chris Anderson popularized the idea beginning in 2004, applying it to entertainment businesses like music and movies that have historically been especially reliant on hit properties. In marketing terms, long-tail thinking has had major implications for digital marketing. Massive social networks provide glimpses into thousands ready-made demographic or behavioral niches that can inform everything from product development to message creation.

In his 2000 book, New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell introduced the language of connectors and mavens, the 80/20 rule and sticky ideas in an attempt to understand how ideas spread through cultures. In the early part of the decade, this terminology was relied upon to explain how trends caught on. Although it's been largely supplanted by the language of virality, Gladwell's thinking still has resonance. Peer-to-peer pass-along has become the single most important factor in considering how ideas -- marketing or otherwise -- get distributed in a marketing world marked by extreme clutter. And Gladwell offered perhaps the most elegant, nonacademic explanation of how it all worked. It's been worked over heavily by thinkers such as Duncan Watts, who argues that connectors are overrated, but it remains a useful guide -- and a good read.

Branded entertainment has its roots in the early part of the century, when Procter & Gamble-sponsored radio and TV soap operas were all the rage. But the convergence of the entertainment and ad industries -- an eventuality predicted by former Ad Age Editor Scott Donaton, who popularized the term "Madison & Vine" in a book and an Ad Age newsletter and event -- has never been more embraced by advertisers. Media fragmentation between 2000 and 2010 forced marketers to rely less and less on traditional channels like 30-second spots that can easily be TiVoed and instead reach consumers in new ways, from custom-made webisodes to celebrity endorsers. Dedicated units that broker branded entertainment deals have sprouted up at every ad major holding company, ad agencies have aligned with Hollywood talent agencies like William Morris, while CAA has plucked copywriters from Madison Avenue.

Not everyone in Adland has shown love for Saatchi & Saatchi CEO Kevin Roberts' belief that Lovemarks is the way forward for brand marketing. Strip away the cheesy language, though, and his philosophy -- aiming to create emotional connections between consumers and brands that become lasting relationships -- is tough to quarrel with. And, compared to most agency positioning, like say TBWA vet Jean Marie Dru's Disruption, Lovemarks is a simple, more accessible technique to grasp. For all the butt of jokes Lovemarks has been, it's also proved a successful new-business tool for Saatchi that attracted a swath of marketers during this decade, from packaged goods accounts to fast feeders like Wendy's. Most famously, Lovemarks was what attracted JCPenney to hand its $430 million ad account to Saatchi after Mr. Roberts told CMO Mike Boylson that Penney's needed to be a Lovemark with Middle America.

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