JO BOWMAN

The business of advertising has become more about sharing with consumers and less about shouting at or seducing them. But Jo Bowman finds that sure-fire media plans – and ideal measures of success – remain as elusive as ever
The advertising game has changed, but it’s no easier to win – and perhaps harder to know what counts as victory – according to senior executives with some of the world’s strongest brands. Dr Steven Althaus, global director of brand management and marketing services at BMW, says communications used to be like ten-pin bowling: you aimed your message, fired, bowled over as much of your target as possible and missed some from the fringes. Now, he says, it’s more like a game of pinball, with a constant flapping of paddles: passing messages, seeing what comes back, passing again and trying different tactics. The rules of the old game no longer apply.

“Who would have guessed, seven or eight years ago, that a huge company like Nokia would be in a completely different market situation?” he says. “You must never, never take customer satisfaction and loyalty for granted, and you must deploy a concept we call ‘healthy paranoia.’”

Digital technology has brought marketers the ability to target communications and to relate to people one-to-one with precision unimaginable only a decade ago. But as well as providing more opportunities to reach and influence consumers – and to influence the most influential – it has also delivered an infinitely more complex path to purchase, shortened attention spans and multi-screening. Change is the new constant.

“We definitely see the wear-out of classic communication patterns in times of uncertainty,” says Althaus. “Today, it’s more about managing uncertainty and changes in technology and consumer preferences. The overarching theme is, ‘How do we embrace uncertainty and the fact there might be a different technology tomorrow? How do we embrace the incredible change there’s been in believability and credibility?’ If you have this kind of mind-set, you tend to look more at content, rather than a worked-out media plan.”

Right time, right place

Ansgar Hoelscher is VP marketing intelligence & innovation at Beiersdorf, the makers of Nivea products. He says it’s no longer the case that brands desire a “360-degree” approach to communications, allowing them to tick off every possible media option. “You do not necessarily play all touchpoints at once, as long as you’re where the consumer is. Today, almost 80% of the population is online. Why play the entire media concert if you are where the consumer is?”

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