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June 22, 2006

Lord Saatchi's 'Death Of Advertising' Speech Is 'Utter Rubbish'

My first reaction to Lord Saatchi's speech at Cannes on the death of modern advertising was, "what utter rubbish," however once I listened to Maurice Saatchi's speech on the BBC world service, read the article published in the Financial Times and shifted through his question and answer session on the site. I realized that Lord Saatchi is both trying to attract attention to his ideas by sounding an alarm about the death of advertising, and pull together a good description of what's happening amongst consumers in today's technology driven world.

I regret I do have some criticisms of Lord Saatchi's article, for instance in this quote:

"for a modern teenager, in the 30 seconds of a normal television commercial, to take a telephone call, send a text, receive a photograph, play a game, download a music track, read a magazine and watch commercials at x6 speed. They call it "CPA": continuous partial attention. The result: day-after recall scores for television advertisements have collapsed, from 35 per cent in the 1960s to 10 per cent today."

Well, have we ever considered that there are more advertisements today than there were during the 1960's?

Here's an exert from the wikipedia article on TV Commercials:

"In the 1960s a typical hour-long American show would run for 51 minutes excluding commercials. Today, a similar program would only be 42 minutes long; a typical 30-minute block of time includes 22 minutes of programming with 6 minutes of national advertising and 2 minutes of local (although some half-hour blocks may have as much as 12 minutes of commercials)."

Even in Lord Saatchi's home country, the UK, "the amount of airtime allowed by the Independent Television Authority and its successors for advertising has risen from 7 minutes per hour in the 1970s to 12 minutes today."

Basically consumers are seeing more ads and therefore because of the volume of material have a difficult time remembering the ads. I think that recall factor applies across all ages, not just the modern teenager.

While I agree people are looking at more media at the same time. The increase in both the amount of media consumption and volume of advertising competition gives an incentive for companies to think about how a company can find better ways to reach customers. Companies must realize that their advertising will take more ads and hence more money to achieve the same return on investment.

In fact I think Lord Saatchi is not really saying advertising is dead but that it's harder to reach your customers through advertising because the audience is seeing so much. Lord Saatchi coin's the term, "one word equity," the idea that each company should focus on owning one word for its brand. I think that's a good idea, but not a new idea. When you think of Volvo you think of Safety, when you think of Starbucks you think of coffee. To me Lord Saatchi's term just makes more sense in today's busy technology and media world.

Lord Saatchi also introduces the idea of digital natives and digital immigrants. Here's Lord Saatchi's quote:

"social scientists divide the world between digital natives and digital immigrants. Anyone over 25 is a digital immigrant. He or she has had to learn the digital language. The digital native learnt it like you learnt your mother tongue, effortlessly as you grew up. The digital immigrant struggles and forever has a thick, debilitating accent."

I did some research on who coined the two phrases Lord Saatchi uses. See Marc Prensky's post on the origins of the terms.

Marc's background is in business and game design. Other people who were involved in developing the term include; Douglas Rushkoff, a film maker and writer, and John Perry Barlow, the co-founder of the electronic freedom foundation, former lyricist for the grateful dead and fellow Harvard Law School's Berkman Center for Internet and Society. All of these people have excellent backgrounds but their history also tells me that you or I can develop equally compelling ideas about what's happening in today's society if we put in the effort to listen and think.

I personally don't buy into the culture of youth that the young are always at an advantage when it comes to using new technology. I think people can pick up skills later in life, but of course if you learn them when you are younger you will be in a better position to use those skills. Rather I think technology adoption is more a situation of a divide between technology access and social groupings. I've met lots of technology savvy college students who don't know anything about blogs and many social media tools, but who are aware of instant messaging, facebook and myspace.

So if you're over 35 don't worry you too can pick up the skills of the web 2.0 economy. To me the fact the young are going to pick up technology faster is true, but that's more a function of culture. I've seen from discussions with twenty-year-old college students many social media tools that are used by older adults are entirely new concepts to them. The real issue is not age but culture for the acceptance of technology. In a way Lord Saatchi actually makes a good argument for dividing people by their level of technology involvement. The greater the level of media use, the more difficult it is to reach them because that person sees more stuff. The concept of "one word equity," works well for busy people who see a lot of media.

Drawing attention to yourself by stating advertising is dead is an effective way to generate publicity, but to me it does not really frame the conversation well. I think the discussion is really about how to be more effective with your advertising and marketing dollars. Lord Saatchi might provide some of the answers with the idea of "one word equity." Though this does all sound like traditional brand ideas to me.

I don't think what Lord Saatchi said was rubbish, rather a missed opportunity as he did not mention consumer generated media, blogging or social media. Now the new world of online social media is a place where the chances of the participants using one word are extremely low. People's attention spans for advertising may be low; I suspect consumer's attention spans for content on blogs and online community groups are high. I think Lord Saatchi is right about targeting a message to consumers succinctly, but he missed a perfect opportunity to discuss how companies might reach consumers who increasing have more of their attention in the new world of online social media.

Posted by johncass at June 22, 2006 12:30 PM

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Excellent piece. We live in a world of rapid change across media, PR and advertising but its too easy to go around predicting the death of this or that in fact I think it is more of a copout than anything. Harder to do real analysis easier to make big, bold predictions.
BTW I'm 51 and I've had no trouble immigrating to digital!

Posted by: Trevor Cook at June 23, 2006 6:53 AM

Thanks Trevor. I think Lord Saatchi was using the 'death of advertising,' pitch as a device to be provocative, just as I used the phrase Lord Saatchi speaks 'utter rubbish." Both of us actually stepped back from fully committing to our initial opening. Which was why I used my phrase in the first place to illustrate the point you made, its easy to make "big bold predictions."

Hey, following on from my idea that its culture that makes us digital. What's your path to the new digital world?

And do you have any stories to tell of under 25's who have not made it there yet?

Posted by: John Cass at June 23, 2006 8:50 AM

John - I think because I am an information junkie and like discussions etc that the digital world was just a no-brainer for me (mind you my passion for books and musty 2nd hand shops is undiminished).
All the under 25s I know understand the idea of getting news online, researching purchases, staying in contact with IM and email etc but only a tiny few get the idea of self-publishing. Partly that's cultural. Like the rest of us they are just getting used to the idea that expertise is now democratic. We the editors decide. They / we are still getting used to the idea that we don't wait to be asked or approved anymore we just publish and see what the people think

Posted by: Trevor Cook at June 23, 2006 5:04 PM

Trevor, Your point about the lack of fear of publishing is well taken. Now that would be an interesting survey of people by age or experience. If the social scientists are correct the younger or more immersed in the new digital culture the smaller the fear to publish.

Posted by: John Cass at June 26, 2006 9:56 AM

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