Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Palmer gets permed

Came across a recent column by Benjamin Palmer in Adweek that has me a little puzzled. Let me preface my comments by saying that I’m a big fan of B. Palmer in particular and the work of Barbarian Group in general. I’ve been impressed by and referenced his thinking on these very screens, particularly his comments on the concept of Brand Utility, but in relation to this column entitled "The Future of Branding is Now," I can only assume that he’s been championing new media (against old) for so long that it's driven him to overstate his claims.

Chief among these is Palmer’s dubious distinction between what refers to as temporary media and permanent media. Guess which one is which?

Here’s how he puts it:

The brands that have historically achieved the most permanence are the giant ones that can afford to have an ad in a medium that hits your eyes once or more a day every day. The branding (hopefully) accumulates over time, but the messages themselves are disposable, mostly randomly distributed and, as a result, strictly temporary. These old media are temporary. Brands, however, are permanent. The good news is that, in the Internet, we finally have a medium that's permanent.

Even if I could sort out the overlap between brands and media here (maybe I should be critiquing the Adweek editor instead?) I’m still not sure what Palmer means by permanent. I’m pretty sure it doesn’t mean what he thinks it means. Brands are permanent? The internet is permanent? I’m assuming he can’t mean the medium itself (The internet is a baby in comparison to TV and radio). But if I assume he means that digital marketing is somehow more permanent (because people interact with it) than old media marketing, he seems to get the point exactly wrong.

Great ads, ads broadcast on old media, have lingered in the culture for years if not decades. Copy from boring old media ads have completely permeated our culture--for better or worse--and will linger as long as the dialect does. (Wassap, where’s the beef? Plop, plop, etc., etc., You want more examples just check look at the taglines filled in by a nine year old on a previous post.) By comparison, marketing on the internet has a very short lifespan indeed. Consumers are still looking up the Mean Joe Green Coke Ad and feeling all misty-eyed over the image of racial harmony decades after it was broadcast, but few people want to mess around with last years or even last months microsite. Anyone still playing with subservient chicken? I'm not suggesting this won't change, but the evidence isn't on Palmer's side here. At least not yet.

Isn’t one of the chief virtues of marketing—as Palmer makes clear in the same column—the fact that it’s relatively easy and cheap to change over time? It’s the opposite of permanent, in a good way, particularly in relation to something relatively fixed and expensive, like film.

Palmer ends the column with an equally either odd rant about how there was no real “brand value” before the internet came along. I suppose he means that’s because it was harder to measure the contribution of old media to brand development than it is now that we have web analytics.

Again, no one will argue that the accountability of digital media—the fact that you can measure what people do with it—is very handy, but again, it seems that Palmer seems to have forgotten that stories are also very powerful entities, sometimes less, sometimes more powerful than tools, digital or otherwise.

The fact that you can’t necessarily click through a storytelling experience or exactly measure what it means to “identify” with a character doesn’t mean something isn’t happening, and that something isn't having an enormous and sometimes even permanent impact on our perceptions, feelings and actions.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It is useful to try everything in practise anyway and I like that here it's always possible to find something new. :)