Billy & Sue Have Changed - Lessons from a Day in Los Angeles
By Mike Carlton
Who are Billy & Sue?
This is all about Billy & Sue. They are the most important people to any marketer or advertising agency. They are you and me and a quarter of a billion others. They are the American consumer.
And while they are the most constant element in the myriad of changes facing agencies, even they have changed. This paper is about that change, and what advertising agencies can do to take advantage of that change. Because, the success of every marketer and every agency ultimately depends on the beliefs and behavior of Billy & Sue. It is that personal. And that individual.
First, Some Quotes From The Madison+Vine Meeting
“The advertising model has changed from intrusion to invitation” - Rance Crain, president Crain Communications
Let’s Start Back in the 1950s
Most of the commercial information Billy & Sue received back then came through advertising. And, most advertising was print. Billy & Sue paid for subscriptions to newspapers and magazines and they only read the ads that were interesting to them. Paying for content which included ads was normal. And, expected. While radio was free, its overall role was limited.
Along Came Television
With the advent of TV, a new proposition was offered to Billy & Sue. The deal was simple. You give us your time (to watch commercials), and we’ll give you content for free. Not bad. Particularly since in that era Billy & Sue had more time than money. Sue was not working outside the home. And Billy’s activities centered around his job and family. So, it was a good deal.
But, Billy & Sue Were Pretty Smart
Almost immediately, they developed sophisticated mental filters. These filters effectively screened out TV commercials they were not interested in. They also quickly developed multi-tasking skills. So they could do all kinds of other things while “watching” TV. In addition, they planned their time so that TV commercial breaks were kind of like a brief intermission. As a result, almost from the start only the commercials they wanted to see got through. But, they still got all the content they wanted for free.
The Age of Television
During the next couple of decades, TV became the primary source of commercial information for Billy & Sue. TV not only became a commercial power house, it also reshaped our society. The world had never seen anything like it.
It was a golden age. Not just for the TV broadcasters and networks. But for advertisers, too. Advertising agencies thrived in this environment. And the 30 second spot became the principal currency of advertising. Legions of writers, art directors, producers, etc. sprung up to practice their skills in crafting innovative and effective spots. It was a whole new art form. And, it drove the advertising economy. Not to mention the national economy.
Other ways of reaching Billy & Sue continued. PR, radio, magazines, direct mail, newspapers, direct sales, outdoor, promotions, literature, word of mouth, and others all grew. But TV was the king. And, everybody knew it.
The basic economics of advertising agencies and the 30 second spot became intertwined. And, everybody prospered. Ah, those were the days!
But, All Good Things…
Imperceptibly at first. And then, ever so slowly the dominance of TV began to erode. Cable began to whittle away at the network audiences. Other media became more targeted and more sophisticated. And then the Internet burst onto the scene. Each took a small piece of the attention Billy & Sue had been giving to TV. None of these changes was overwhelming. But each took a small toll. Kind of like fleas on an elephant. TV was past its peak. But, still very powerful.
And through it all, its proposition remained the same: Give us your time, and we’ll give you free content.
But Wait, Billy & Sue Were Changing, Too
Remember the equation of the ‘50s; Billy & Sue had more time than money. That was the foundation for the TV deal. But, Billy & Sue’s lives were changing. First, they became better educated. Then, Sue got a job. While they now had more money, their lives became more hectic. They had more possessions. They traveled more. The pace of their lives quickened. Time demands increased. And on came the Me Generation. Big lifestyle changes.
Now Billy & Sue had more money than time. A big switch. They also began to question why they should do the advertising filtering. After all, if the marketer really cares about them, shouldn’t he be the one to make sure that their time was not wasted on irrelevant messages? And, if the marketer does in fact value their support, shouldn’t what they want to see be delivered when they want to see it?
Wow! Talk About a Paradigm Shift
The power had just shifted from the sender of content and commercial messages to the receiver.
Billy & Sue had developed a set of personal expectations. To win them over, marketers would have to:
In short, Billy & Sue are demanding that commercial communication they receive be PERSONALLY RELEVANT. This means that the sender must practice mass customization of his commercial message. Big, big change from the one size fits all era.
So, What Does All This Mean For Advertising Agencies?
Some More Quotes From The Madison+Vine Meeting
“We are talking about nothing short of reinventing the business of marketing communications” - Scott Donaton, editor Advertising Age
In this context, let’s take a look at some of the strengths and weaknesses of advertising agencies:
In short, no one else has the range of intellectual assets that agencies do. But, years of success has made them very risk adverse and resistant to change. This is particularly true of the bigger, more financially driven organizations.
Interestingly, this may be one of the reasons that the financial markets are punishing publicly held agencies and holding companies so severely.
Against this backdrop, what is an entrepreneurial agency to do?
We believe there is enormous opportunity for agencies that focus intently on five thoughts:
But, today’s business model is clearly in decline. 30 second spots and colorful ads and other stuff as the economic backbone of the agency business will just not work much longer. The golden goose is dying.
A new business model must be created. The need is there. The opportunity is there. The agencies that can develop an effective new economic model for their business, and then successfully transition to it, can move to a whole new level of psychic and financial reward. Those that don’t will be marginalized.
The Good News
The market is there, and growing stronger. The consumer has more money to spend, and is looking for relevant messages about brands that will help fulfill their lives. In good times and in bad, their desires will be satisfied.
What an opportunity! What a time to be in the agency business!
Oh, And by the Way
Billy & Sue have not only changed their beliefs and their behavior. They have also changed their names. Two of the most popular children’s names today are Juan & Ashley. And if that doesn’t speak volumes about the evolving American consumer, nothing does.