Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Is the Digital Tail Wagging the Ad Dog?

This past week, advertising giants Omnicom and Publicis said they have agreed to merge. My heavens: Will the Mad Men of yesterday soon be unable to hide behind brand positioning, the art of superior creativity or even the clubby comfort of deals made over martinis on Madison Avenue? It is not just about Unique Selling Propositions anymore. It is a whole new game and, frankly this reaction to the marketplace could be the beginning of the end for the once proud and exclusive Ad Biz. 

In a statement disclosing the deal, the Publicis CEO, Maurice Lévy, noted that "the communication and marketing landscape has undergone dramatic changes in recent years, including the exponential development of new media giants, the explosion of Big Data, blurring of the roles of all players and profound changes in consumer behavior."

The Wall Street Journal suggests that the marriage of Omnicom Group (of the U.S.) and Publicis (headquartered in France) is aimed at restoring the balance of power between advertising agencies and such Silicon Valley companies as Google and Facebook. Well maybe, just maybe, Madison Avenue is finally paying for a pattern of hoodwinking clients and snake oil salesmanship. But, maybe, just maybe, technology doesn’t make it better. Could it be that soon we’ll be turning marketing decisions over to an automated analysis as fishy as the derivatives that ultimately caused so much disruption during the financial crisis? Like that financial voo-doo we might find ourselves compelled to place our trust in software that does our thinking for us.     

According to eMarketer, the share of global ad spending in digital media is projected to grow to 27% by 2017. Clearly the business is moving to firms such as and Adobe and are moving more into areas that are new competition for ad agencies."All of these tech players didn't exist, didn't compete, even on the fringes of our business, even five years ago," says Omnicom's CEO, JohnWren. said in an interview. The merger, he said, will "create a lot of opportunities for us, some defensive and some offensive."

Stay tuned for the clash of the titans. Madison Avenue vs. Silicon Valley. Will it be the tail wagging the dog? Or will it be Dog eat Dog? We will see soon enough as this business world saga unfolds. 

Friday, July 12, 2013

A Matter of Interpretation

Jim Jordan lead a workshop at the Visitors’ Center in Forest Park today (Friday July 12, 2013). He is a senior coordinator at the School of Professional and Continuing Studies at the University of Missouri at St. Louis (UMSL). Jim is a 20+ year veteran of the St. Louis Zoo and something of a Renaissance man (He lives in a solar powered home, is a home brewer of craft beer, a bee-keeper and generally an interesting human being.) Gina Ganahi the Associate Dean was also part of the four hour workshop attended by an interesting cross-section of docents, volunteers and others involved in presenting their respective institutions to the public. Laumeier Sculpture Park was well represented along with individuals from Henry Shaw House, Botanical Gardens and The St. Louis Art Museum. In all, about 30 people in attendance.  

Jim Jordan began his presentation with some thought from Freeman Tilden, who is widely regarded at the father of Interpretation. He said, “Interpretation is an informational and inspirational process which reveals a larger truth that lies behind any statement of fact. It is a way of adding personal meaning and relevance of your subject for your audience.” Jim added the following thoughts: “Interpreters interpret the language of meaning! Interpretation asks the questions Why do I want my audience to know this? and What do I want my audience to do with this? It satisfies the question of "so what?" and “ Interpretation is a communication process that forges emotional and intellectual connections between the interests of the audience and the inherent meanings in the resource.” That last quote coming from the National Association of Interpretation (NAI).

Jim helped the group understand the difference between Interpretation and Education suggesting that certainly part of it is the audience being Captive vs. Non-Captive. But also the nature of accountability. (An educator who is expected to teach will be held to a different level than a volunteer engaging visitors to an museum for example.) However, good educators and good Interpreters share many of the same attributes and methods.

We were introduced to the concept of the Interpretive Triangle = Audience + Resource + Objective.
Audience Motivations and Reasons why they visit an institution/site: A combination of cognitive, affective and often psychomotor (Physical) Domains. To further illustrate the interpretive triangle, Jim offered a little insight into the St. Louis Zoo.  

Saint Louis Zoo
– The zoo’s mission is summarized as “Animals Always” (It includes the ideas of conserving animals and their habitats through animal management, research, recreation and education). But the institution also needs to have a good idea why People come to the Zoo. Jim Jordan shared the topline results of the research among visitors to the Zoo. The  study on visitor motivation resulted in some interesting groupings:

Explorers” are curiosity-driven and seek to learn more about what they encounter;

Facilitators” focused primarily on enabling the experience and learning of others in their accompanying social group. Moms primary planner for family going to Zoo;

Professional/Hobbyists” feel a close tie between the institution’s content and their professional/hobbyist passions (may or may not involve seeking information from you);

Experience Seekers” primarily derive satisfaction from the visit (often in social group);

Spiritual Pilgrims” are primarily seeking a contemplative and/or restorative experience

This report only scratches the surface of the interpretation workshop covered in the four hours. In fact, the four hours passed too quickly to fully explore many of the topics but I think the volunteers in that room left with a renewed sense of value and commitment to their respective activities. Thank You Jim Jordan! 

*Freeman Tilden (August 22, 1883 – May 13, 1980) was one of the first people to set down the principles and theories of Heritage Interpretation in his 1957 book, Interpreting Our Heritage. His work with the United States National Park Service inspired generations of interpreters around the world and continues to be a definitive text for the discipline.

Note: Laumeier Sculpture Park was well represented in this workshop with docents Ann Bauer, Barb Flunker, Janet Peterson, Mary Drury, June Shaw, Wes Morgan in attendance.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

What Would Vonnegut Do?

I am a big fan of Vonnegut. The author known as Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. was a writer who would blend satire, gallows humor and science fiction. I was introduced to him as Slaughterhouse Five was required reading in my Freshman English class at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida. Recently I listened to Slaughterhouse Five and the Kurt Vonnegut Jr. autobiography on audio CDs. His life and achievements are remarkable.     

Vonnegut was a WWII veteran, a prisoner of war and survivor of the fire bombings at Dresden, Germany all in his early 20s, as a young man. The bombing of Dresden by the Royal Air Force (RAF) and the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) between February 13 and February 15 in 1945 remains a controversial Allied action of the Western European theatre of war.  

After the war he became a corporate public relations man. By the mid-1950s, on the verge of abandoning writing, Vonnegut was offered a teaching job at the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop. While he was there, Cat's Cradle became a best-seller, and he began Slaughterhouse-Five (now considered one of the best American novels of the 20th century).

Vonnegut was part of the WWII generation but it was about five years after it was originally published when I was reading Slaughterhouse Five for the first time. The United States was withdrawing from Viet Nam. Vonnegut wrote: “And Lot's wife, of course, was told not to look back where all those people and their homes had been. But she did look back, and I love her for that, because it was so human. So she was turned into a pillar of salt. So it goes.”   

 Vonnegut said, “Being a Humanist means trying to behave decently without expectation of rewards or punishment after you are dead.” He died in 2007 and his books remain enormously popular on college campuses. Slaughterhouse Five will always be a favorite of mine. Thanks Kurt. So it goes.