Commentary: Say Goodbye to Couch Potatoes's Aaron Cohen Says the Generation Gap Is Advertising's Biggest Challenge

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Quick, pop quiz: What comes to mind when I throw out these phrases:

Oh, what a feeling!
Have it your way
Plop plop, fizz fizz
Bolt Media's CEO, Aaron Cohen
Bolt Media's CEO, Aaron Cohen
If any of these even sound familiar, then you, my friend, are a media dinosaur.

Thanks to DVRs, the web and a host of other interactive mediums, jingles don't have the brand power of the past. Reach and frequency was a religion then -- but they're shockingly elusive terms today.

On Madison and Vine, substantive efforts are under way to combat DVRs with an arsenal of product-placement innovations and new in-screen technologies. But those who control the media budgets today spent their formative years as couch potatoes with a wide selection of three TV channels. Even with the hundreds of channels available today, we are in an era in which people simply watch less TV. Never has a generation gap been more pronounced and it will do long-term damage to brands if media companies and the agencies that support them do not innovate faster.

After half a century of rising aggregated audience growth, TV audiences are flattening and will soon decline. People under 30 -- the "me media" generation -- are leaving TV for the web.

First, their social lives are integrated into the web. Social networking inhabits bedrooms, dorm rooms and the cubicles of your under-30 employees. Second, people under 30 have watched their whole lives on video. Watch enough soccer games and ballet recitals and pretty soon you understand the lure of YouTube. Finally, the proliferation of broadband and recording technologies makes every event, however mundane, a potential Kodak moment.

Sure, the "me media" generation wants to have it their way and teaching them that Miller Lite tastes great and has a third less calories than regular beer will be difficult. Advertising must radically reinvent itself to be an effective brand-building tool with this generation. Thoughtful young media executives are advocating for word-of-mouth programs and participatory ideas, but their employers and clients spent the first 20 or 30 years of their marketing careers praying to the picture-tube god.

Some brands and agencies absolutely get it. OMD has formed an agency for console gaming and another for mobile; Publicis created Denuo, a boutique group of smart people dedicated to shaking up the speed of decision making. This summer, big brands are working with Bolt and MySpace to engage users in interactive experiences whether they are Cingular ringtones, Scion designs or entering Gnarls Barkley-inspired music festivals underwritten by Wendy's.

Remember, jingles are worthless if they aren't heard. Today's marketers need to support and integrate their brands into immersive, participatory programs.

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Aaron Cohen is CEO of Bolt Media.
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