Mar 10, 2008

The Great Leap Forward

Brian Morrissey has a great piece in Adweek today about how agencies are discovering the value of utility on the web vs. trying to build some sort of not-very-novel “engagement” site.


This is something you’ve heard me go on about for some time now. The whole idea of how online (social media in particular) is all about providing utility for consumers who are online to actually do something. Versus offline media, which is mostly about providing consumers with news in a (hopefully) entertaining manner. How the only brands that can expect consumers to willingly engage them are the dozen or so “Prom King Brands™” and how everyone else is just waving a flag in the dark because (all together now) Your Brand Is Not My Friend™. How many traditional agency folk have this notion I call “Clicking Through The Internet” where they really believe that if you put a site up online people will magically find it as they “click through the internet” the way they click through their cable television line-up. (No utility or drive-to vehicles needed.)

And so on.

One excellent example Morrissey (my new Twitter friend) points out is the Dominos site developed by Crispin Porter. Which is just a nicely designed, easy-to-use (let me repeat that one: easy-to-use) site that lets you custom design a pizza and then (surprise!) actually order it. Because that’s what Dominos does: deliver pizzas. And that’s why I go to to order pizzas. Not to play an online game called “Find The Anchovy.” Not to upload wacky videos of myself eating Dominos with my friends. Not even to recount my funniest pizza deliveryman story. No. I go there when I’m hungry and want to order pizza. And if you can make my pizza-ordering experience an easier and more enjoyable one, you’ve done more than any $100 million ad campaign could.

Now traditional agency folks are often baffled by this line of reasoning and with good reason: it totally makes what they do for a living totally obsolete. It puts experience front and center and sticks clever entertainment somewhere on the way back burner. The notion is not brain surgery: it’s what Whole Foods and Starbucks and Virgin did in the bricks and mortar world: made the experience satisfying enough to command loyalty. Not to mention higher prices.

This transition from entertainment to utility, from “what I want to tell you” to “what you want hear” is the single most important thing that’s happening in advertising and marketing in the past 100 years. It’s a huge transition and it’s bigger than the introduction of television and the rise of the internet. Those that get it and make it happen will thrive in the years to come.


Anonymous said...

you're dead right. being useful and valued is better than being vaguely amusing. great post.

Anonymous said...

fantastic post - and good on morrissey for jumping on your bandwagon.

i don't know how many times i have come across other brands that have done the things you show that domino's didn't - sometimes even in brainstorms at my agency - when the simple, easy utility is what the problem is calling out for.

it's the online version of the campbell's shelf-management system: not gonna win at cannes, but will revolutionize the whole business and provide utility to consumers. but you know that agency folks want that gold lion.

Anonymous said...

Spot on as usual, Toad.
I'm going to print out copies of this post and plant them in conspicuous places around my BDA. Maybe the common sense will rub off on some people.
(Doubtful, but maybe.)

Alan Wolk said...

Thanks for the praise guys.
It's been satisfying to see this line of reasoning finally get some traction.

My fear is that we're going to see a spate of "useful" apps/sites that clients (and agencies) are going to insist on inserting all sorts of old-school branding and other consumer-repellent messages into them, thus diminishing their utility.

Maybe not though.

Alan Wolk said...

On the other hand, I can also see some great strides forward as people with agency backgrounds start working in this space. There's the opportunity for conceptual input (conceptual and utilitarian not being diametrically opposed) as well as for utilizing craft: imagine using some of the techniques and production companies (Pixar, Aardman) to create a useful online site.

Anonymous said...

speaking as a former agency person who likes to think he is working in this area, this is a golden area to work in. and it's gratifying to actually help people out.

it's less hollywood but it's more engaging. writing funny scripts gets old.

Anonymous said...


Great post! Engage me, listen to me, respond to my wants and needs, and I will be a customer. I doubt a $100 million ad campaign will deliver the same result.

Anonymous said...

What will be really interesting is how this will play out for things that don't necessarily offer utility online. Or parity products.

For instance, how can a candy bar, cleaning product, or beverage offer utility that will actually be, you know, utilized?

Time will tell, but I, like Toad, fear "get me one of those widgets" mentality encroaching this.

Anonymous said...

good point yikes. the no/low interest products will have to just plain old advertise.

Alan Wolk said...

@Yikes & Anonymous: While I agree that not every brand needs a website, a brand that doesn't have a clear reason to have a website can create a presence by sponsoring something useful, even if it's only tangentially related. (Sort of how soap companies created soap operas, only different.)

So if you were say, Bird's Eye frozen vegetables and you'd thought up Open Table (a useful restaurant reservations site) and sponsored the site clearly but unobtrusively, then you'd give consumers something of value.

Better yet, they'd actually think well of you for doing so.