MIX07 It could have been so different.
Thinkers and creatives from publishing and advertising – Coke, The Economist and others - met for a Microsoft MIX07 panel, to debate and generally conclude that technology is a great way for reaching consumers.
After two days of Microsoft extolling the joys of convergence and multimedia content that’s delivered through Windows PCs, mobile devices, websites and the Xbox community, it was to be the frosting on Microsoft's new media cake.
But no-one had handed Andrew Rashbass the script.
Rashbass, chief information officer at The Economist, exhibited some criminally heretical views in front of a web and content developer audience assembled at Microsoft's Las Vegas Mecca. Chiefly:
- That the best way to reach consumers is through technology that’s “under the covers” not the kinds of “technologies that have been talked about here.” Oops.
- Compelling content, not technology, will help brands attract consumers.
- Great content is in short supply
- Contrary to the Web 2.0 hive mindset, companies do try to retain control of brands.
- Converging content and advertising cheats and can misinform consumers.
The panel was an object lesson for marketing departments everywhere: in "conversations" can't be controlled and shoot off in unwanted directions.
The "Is marketing dead?" panel spun of the rails almost as soon as it left the station. Robbie Bach, Microsoft's president for entertainment and devices, had seized the stage, speaking of “advergaming” with Xbox games produced in co-operation with Burger King featuring the junk food giant’s mascot in a series of cheesy scenarios and that sold 3.2m copies in six weeks. And there are the 60 advertisers placing banners in real time through Xbox Live versions of Major League Baseball.
"We are engaging people, we are getting them to be interactive, and getting them to be social," Bach proclaimed, before passing the baton to Gayle Troberman, panel chair and Microsoft general manager for global brand entertainment.
Over to you, Rashbass: "It's kind of funny to hear Robbie Bach giving a talk on advertising and monetization when he just lost $300m in the last quarter." Oh dear.
"It's difficult to engage consumers. Robbie can show a few examples but the examples he doesn't show are the thousands of examples that don't engage consumers. Technology doesn't engage consumers," Andrew told fellow panelists.
Carol Kruse, Coca-Cola group director for interactive marketing, agreed with him. She outlined her company's much maligned efforts to touch consumers by sponsoring musicians’ content on peer-to-peer networks and paying for videos of dorks shooting off fountains of fizz with the help of packets of Mintoes. "If you don't have compelling content it doesn't involve consumers," she said.
Strike two to Rashbass: most companies don't have the budget to pay for content and most corporations are too afraid of losing control of the brand to let users run with it. "Coca-Cola is good at making beverages for mass markets around the world. To become experts in selection and distribution of music is a completely different set of skills. The majority of companies need to stick at what they do."
But what of synergizing needs of consumer and advertiser with content and “involving the consumer in the brand”. “I’m not sure the consumer always wins… companies do want to control the message. If you are a major oil company you will want to control the message about global warming,” Rashbass declared as the marketing hot air began seeping from the Mix 07 hall.
Warmed up and brushing aside Winston Binch, big on Madison Avenue and Nike ads (who claimed: "We can figure out what content to provide [and]the rules are changing everyday"), Rashbass ploughed on. "It's not true advertisers are trying to give consumers what they want. They are trying to sell consumers something.
"The way advertising works is you piss off 92 per cent of the audience to reach two per cent. Ninety two per cent of users find adverts distracting and they wish they had a way to switch them off."
Did he just say "piss off"?
"The pressure to find inventory for 30-second pre-roll [canned video clips] is absolutely enormous - the marketing community is piling into pre-roll video," he said.
After that, it was mopping up operations. Never mind Binch's hiccup that VW drivers are the most savvy and own the most iPods – “sorry, the most Zunes” – it was over to the audience who asked pertinent questions such as should "small" companies like Microsoft and AT&T worry about Google's presence in online advertising, and whether Bill Gates's pet project the Tablet PC would play a significant part in publishing.
With both The Economist’s Microsoft ad revenue and Rashbass's MIX08 invite hanging in the balance, the maverick panelist closed: "Bill Gates can shout about it as much as he likes, but no one else is interested.
"You have all these devices and lots and lots of publishers trying to do it, but nobody is interested. Look at uptake for new readers. We [already] have the perfect portable reader you can take to Central Park, the bed or bath. I'm not saying that because I want magazines to continue, but because the market is dictating." ®