Sunday 18 March 2018

AdLib: Paying attention to ad-free living

Media & Marketing with Michael Cullen

Shane Bennett celebrates after scoring a goal for Waterford in the final of the U-21 hurling champtionships, which are already backed by BGE
Shane Bennett celebrates after scoring a goal for Waterford in the final of the U-21 hurling champtionships, which are already backed by BGE

Sanctuary is what Irish consumers should search for as Google and Facebook insist on dominating people's attention, the author of a major new marketing media book contends.

In 'The Attention Merchants', Colombia University professor Tim Wu says consumers must act "to make our attention our own again, and so reclaim ownership of the very experience of living".

Millennials spend so much time on their iPads and mobile phones, all they're doing is fuelling the gravy train for social media. Wu says it's not a question of whether advertising is good, bad or a necessary evil - it's not about how the attention merchant should conduct business - but where and when. Do we draw any lines anymore between the private and the commercial? If so, what times and spaces should we see as being overly-intrusive?

Wu argues it's not simply the by-product of a recent invention but the end result of over a century's growth and expansion in media feeding on human attention. From the pre-Madison birth of advertising - the 'Mad Men' period - to TV's golden age, to today's radically individualised choices, the attention merchants' game has been to respond with Plan B, C etc.

In the 1960s, advertising's advance was broken temporarily by a hippie culture but it wasn't long before advertisers worked it out and came up with a new pitch. When Pepsi sought to challenge Coca-Cola's dominance, they said little about their rival and instead told the cool, rebellious youths it was okay for them to sign up to the 'Pepsi Generation'.

Steve Jobs used the same mood and sense of belonging to sell Apple computers. One of the most interesting chapters in Wu's book is about the rise and rise of Oprah Winfrey. Oprah's early days saw her hosting a local morning TV show in Baltimore, with four dwarfs dressed as chipmunks. It wasn't long before she returned to her hometown of Chicago and had Ku Klux Klan members and nudists as guests.

Wu writes: "On one episode exploring the question 'Does sexual size matter?', Oprah memorably pronounced, 'If you had your choice, you'd like to have a big one if you could. Bring a big one home to Mama!' Scandalous it may have been, but hers was soon the leading talk show in Chicago." Smitten by Ms O, film reviewer and TV personality Roger Ebert advised her to take control by selling her show to other TV stations, in effect pushing her to compete with NBC, CBS and other networks. As Nicolas Carr, author of 'The Shallows', put it 'The Attention Merchants' "deserves everyone's attention". Well, at least everyone absorbed by the power rush of media.

Q Former ad agency executive Una Herlihy has started up on her own as a client-agency intermediary by launching BKC. Herlihy believes she can fill a gap in the market as current agency ways of working aren't fit for purpose and don't serve clients or agencies well.

"There's huge waste, inefficiencies, an outdated pricing model, a lot of average work and a whole heap of stress and strain," Herlihy told AdLib. "My experience over 25 years tells me it's not for a lack of talent, it's more about the environment," she added. A pitch doctor partner with Open Communications for the past seven years, she will continue to do agency selection work.

Herlihy ran her own business called Project for seven years, before which she worked in client service at Irish International and McCann's.

Q As predicted by Irish Independent sportswriter Donnchadh Boyle two weeks ago, Bord Gáis Energy (BGE) will confirm today its sponsorship of the GAA national hurling championship to the tune of about €1m a year.

As official energy sponsor for the next three years, BGE joins Centra and Littlewoods, following recent exits by Liberty Insurance and Etihad Airways. BGE, which already backs the U-21 hurling championships, also sponsors the Irish Book Awards and has the naming rights to the BGE Theatre.

Q Rothco created Virgin Media's product rebrand campaign. The TV ad was directed by Brian Williams, who worked on U2's Zoo TV, and was voiced by Brian Cox. Irish International remains Virgin's lead agency in Ireland, supported by Bartle Bogle Hegarty in London.

Rothco has won Kerry Foods' Cheestrings, Yollies and Scoffies, previously with London agency Fallon. Cheestrings was first rolled out by Dimension in the north of England and its success earned Denis O'Riordan the Marketer of the Year award in 1998.

Core Media and the Association of Advertisers is to launch Ireland's first major report into the influence of marketing communications on brand growth and national economies. Speakers include Greencore ceo Patrick Coveney, Core boss Alan Cox, marketing effectiveness analyst Peter Field and economist Jim Power.

A panel discussion will be moderated by INM Group Business Editor Dearbhail McDonald. The breakfast event is in the Convention Centre in Dublin next Thursday.

Michael Cullen is editor of;

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