The Death of TV Advertising and Other Ideas, Part 2

Sep 24, 2003

By Al McClain

In the second part of a provocative presentation on the future of marketing and advertising at the recent GMA MSM Conference, Dr. Peter Sealey discussed “simplicity marketing”.

Simply stated, Sealey believes consumers are stressed and confused due to an overload of shopping choices. As brands and line extensions have proliferated, consumers are faced with 69 menu choices at McDonald’s, 13,000 mutual funds, 6,000 different VISA cards, 67 General Motors’ brands, 865 cable channels, 47 sizes and flavors of Crest, etc. (Sealey’s numbers). Shoppers have to make too many choices and then keep track of so many details, such as their points and miles for “gold card” status, cell phone plans and usage, checking account charges, and varying interest rates on loans.

What to do? Sealey’s mantra is for marketers to “embrace simplicity”, which chains such as California-based In ‘N Out Burger are doing successfully with limited menu offerings, printed in BIG TYPE, especially for us aging baby boomers. Further, Sealey argues that there needs to be additional consolidation under mega brands in order to do away with lesser brand names, and consumer engagement needs to be made easier.

In embracing simplicity, Sealey advocates the 4 R’s:

  • Replace — for example, AT&T’s “one rate” replaces variable phone charges, while supercenters with groceries, general merchandise, and gas can replace several shopping trips
  • Repackage — as in Microsoft’s Office, which combines Word, Excel, PowerPoint, et al.
  • Reposition — by eliminating sub-brands like Acura and extending products to new uses, such as Arm and Hammer has done with baking soda, and new use occasions, like Coca-Cola for breakfast (maybe he just threw that last one in because he spent a lot of his career with Coke)
  • Replenish — minimizing or eliminating out of stocks, product defects, billing errors, etc.

Moderator’s Comment: Do you agree with Dr. Sealey’s contention that marketers need to simplify their approaches?

OK, so we combine this plea for simplicity marketing with the Part 1 contention that mass advertising will die or at least diminish significantly to be
replaced by mass ad customization, and what do we get? A lot of truth, but a number of problems. Consumers are overwhelmed by choice and sick and tired of advertising.
Unfortunately, nearly all suppliers and retailers are addicted to line extensions, special offers, deep discounts, and “one day only” sales, in large measure because they have
to make their short-term numbers to satisfy Wall Street.

The problem, as I see it, is that marketers can’t muster up the courage to really streamline their brand portfolios and/or stop relying on unprofitable
discounts and sales, because competitors will zoom in and grab market share if they do. Wal-Mart is the ultimate EDLP operator and everybody else resorts to guerilla tactics,
such as customer confusion.

While there are isolated cases of marketers simplifying products and shopping experiences, our overall experience as consumers living in the 21st
century is ever-increasing complexity. So, round and round we go, and where this stops, who knows? My theory is that smart consumers will automate many of their everyday shopping
chores, thereby inoculating themselves from an endless barrage of pitches, while “dumb” consumers will just disengage entirely from the ad process. And, marketers will keep on
looking for new ways to sell things. That’s our collective job. And, if we don’t, we won’t make our numbers, spend our bonuses, satisfy our bosses, help boost the ever-needy economy,
and so forth.

So, marketers will continue to seek new ways to intrude (albeit in a more subtle and “relevant” fashion), new product growth will easily outstrip SKU reduction
efforts, and consumers will figure out new ways to beat the system by zapping ads, filling in bogus info on their shopper profiles, misredeeming coupons, and ignoring intrusive

Right? [Al
McClain – Moderator

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