Fear and loathing in Cannes: Why advertisers must stop expecting attention & start earning it

The following is a post from Frank X. Shaw, Corporate Vice President of Corporate Communications at Microsoft. It was originally published on The Official Microsoft Blog.


It’s fitting that Sunday is the season finale of Mad Men, the award-winning AMC television series set in the ‘60s about the lives of the ruthlessly competitive men and women of Madison Avenue advertising.

Like him or hate him, Don Draper is an incredibly compelling character, and I’ve been thinking a lot about him this week as I’ve read story after story about the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity.

I’ve got to hand it to the advertising community. Nothing as pedantic as Las Vegas. Instead, they head to the beaches in Cannes, France. As a former Marine, I’m familiar with good and bad tours of duty. A week in Cannes strikes me as a VERY GOOD tour. Smile

But it’s also a LOT of work, as evidenced by the news emanating from Microsoft’s advertising organization this week. Unlike some of our competitors, selling advertising isn’t our primary business, but it’s an important part of the mix, as we learned in greater detail this week.

· If you haven’t already, I urge you to check out Stephen Kim’s post showing several new advertising prototypes developed by some of the world’s best media and creative agencies in conjunction with five iconic brands. Compelling stuff.

· Jenn Creegan posted about an innovative, new advertising format, Ad Pano, that’s available to all advertisers and publishers who use the Microsoft Advertising SDK for Windows 8. She also mentions some early Windows 8 ad effectiveness results. Coverage about these new ad formats in The Verge and Ad Age helped provide additional context.

· Natasha Hritzuk’s post gets at the heart of how advertising today is SO much different from that of Don Draper’s era. Says Hritzuk: “Today’s consumer multi-tasks throughout the day. They demand total control over how content flows across their personal devices and digital environments. They’re ‘pulling’ information to them at work, at home and on-the-go, rather than reacting to conventional “push” marketing messages during manufactured ‘primetime’ spots. Yup, that sounds like the time-shifting Shaw household.

· Andy Hart, vice president of Microsoft Advertising & Online in Europe, added his thoughtful European perspective, as well. Says Hart: “The balance of power between customers and brands has shifted: consumers are in control. For our industry, this is a loud warning that we need to stop expecting attention, and start earning it.” Amen.

If the takeaway from my post last week was scale matters, then this week my high-level takeaway from Cannes is that content matters, both its relevance and the experience it offers. As Andy points out, content remains king for consumers. Research conducted in Europe shows consumers are just as interested in advice related to the products they’re considering purchasing and the associated ‘feel good’ factor as in coupons or reward programs. Interesting stuff.

Hart also focuses on how consumers are savvier than in Don Draper’s time; they have a better understanding that their time and attention is worth something. As Hart says, “It’s a commodity that they won’t give away for free.”

This “attention economy” isn’t a new concept; it’s been explored before by many, including the always thoughtful and thought-provoking Esther Dyson (@edyson).

There was much discussion in Cannes this week about value exchange, the exchange of information from consumers to brands, and in exchange relevant ads and other content to consumers from the brands. Some suggested that we’ll be continuously negotiating the terms of that exchange.

There’s an inherent tension in this information give-and-take, as it isn’t always clear what information is mine and what’s yours. Trust. Transparency. Control. These are central tenets of any effective market, and it’s apparent that advertisers, technologists and others involved have more work to do to ensure this information exchange market works efficiently, and in the interests of all participants.

Bill Buxton (pictured below), principal researcher, Human Computer Interaction, Microsoft Research, was in Cannes this week and hosted a session with Stephen Kim entitled, “Beyond technology, designing for people,” in which they argued that we need to put people and partnership at the core of any technology innovations we’re creating. Putting people and partnership first is perhaps an argument that we return to our roots, back to the early days of the PC revolution that were all about freedom, empowerment and personal control. The PC brought “power to the people,” it democratized technology and unleashed human creativity on a scale never seen before.

Buxton

As we advance into a PC+, multi-device, always-on existence, we can’t lose sight of the “personal” in personal computing. We need to extend that sense of “personal” that came with that very first PC to all the devices and services we use each day, for work and for play.

Don Draper once said that “change is neither good nor bad, it simply is.”

I don’t agree with Don.

But I am certain that within the technology industry change is inevitable, and our notions of value, and of what’s mine and what’s yours must evolve with it.