Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Nothing ever happens, nothing happens at all

A client this week said that analysing the past can't help with the present because their market had totally changed in the past nine months.

Really? Is any market fundamentally different to the way it was nine months ago? To pluck one at random, lets look at the car market. It's not a secret that conditions in the car market aren't rosy at the moment and sales have gone through the floor. It hasn't changed though. I should explain.

Advertising in the car market today, will work pretty much like advertising in the car market worked a year ago, it will just sell a lot less product because the market has shrunk.

The basic product - cars - is unchanged and the consumers who are buying those cars are doing so with the same motivation that they did a year ago. I'm not saying that many customers won't be buying a smaller engine, or a cheaper car, but those few city bankers who are in the market for a new Aston this year have the same motivations as the city bankers who bought one last year. So why would advertising in up-market magazines have suddenly stopped working? You're going to sell less product, but the media you use to sell it hasn't changed.

This aversion to the past is a running theme in marketing. Maybe we get bored quickly? As an analyst I have to believe that the past can tell us something about the future, because you can't get reliable data on the future. It's very frustrating.

The same thought springs to mind every time I see a quote like 'Media is now social'.

Media has always been social. There has always been word of mouth. If your product's crap, people have always told their friends not to buy it. The scale and speed of transmission has changed, not the world. So why can't we learn about building great viral campaigns by looking at campaigns that we remember being discussed in the past? The game hasn't changed.

Channels evolve of course, but I firmly believe that the fundamental task for advertising and the way that advertising works has never changed. And that's why I'll never be the headline speaker at an advertising conference, because we media types prefer to imagine a revolution.


orginalanon said...

Not sure I entirely agree.

Markets do change; whether through legislation, new entrants, technological advancements or a host of other reasons and this impacts consumer behaviour.

The current global economic situation has impacted the car manufacturers, the way they do business and their relationship with consumers. Anecdotally GM are suffering because people are concerned they won't be able to get spare parts if they go bust.

However, I do agree that the advertising industry hasn't changed as much as we're led to believe

Neil C said...

Have to admit I was being a bit provocative on purpose.

I'd stick by my point in the car market though. The real change has been a shrinking of the market and so GM suffer - perhaps disproportionately so. Those who remain as potential customers though, will have very similar motivation to the customers a year ago and will respond to similar advertising.

I won't pretend markets never get shocked and undergo radical change, but it's relatively rare. We like to hype change because then we can sell a solution to it...