Allow me to rant about YouTube for a few minutes.  I consume a lot of media via YouTube. I’m insatiably curious. I watch all kinds of media from all kinds of publishers from all over the world. Maybe you do too.

YouTube is sort of like TV, but worse in its use of advertising. TV has gotten bad; in fact, it is a shambles because they lost the narrative. Like many others, I cut the cord. Instead, I’m paying more for 4 or 5 different streaming services. The programming tends to be better overall. The user experience is not convenient. I want to pay less, have better programming and greater convenience.

TV used to have them on convenience, everything they offer all in one place, minus the pay walls. YouTube is convenient. I’m talking about the allegedly free version, but the user experience is horrible. Some of the content posted for free by its creators is awesome. Most of it is crap, but I get to choose what I watch and find programming I value and enjoy. The options are far greater and geekier than any traditional TV programming.

There is a more organic relationship on television between show creators, advertisers and the networks. They’re all in on the gag together. The use of advertising on YouTube is a vulgar onslaught, a cold, ill-timed smack in the face.

The internet serves up great ads and the worst dreck I’ve ever seen. Your perfectly executed idea is surrounded by crap. Rarely is any of it delivered with respect for the programming or the audience.  It’s a race to the bottom.

The ad servers have control and have no issue slapping you upside the head with an ad right in the middle of an extremely poignant moment. It may be a powerful interview, artist portrait, great musical performance, film, cutting edge news broadcast, you name it; but the robots and the people that built them do not give a damn about the quality of the experience.

There are no gentle hand-offs between programming and advertising. It’s hideous. I find it so annoying that it makes me dislike the brands involved. Advertisers beware, you are turning off your potential customers because the ad servers that you pay to deliver impressions don’t really care about you or your customers.

The system is gamed against us both. Advertisers pay for impressions and the impression is, “go piss off.”

The latest trick of the platform is to have advertisers create short ads that the user is not allowed to skip. These ads are just as annoying. Recently, I noticed that it takes multiple taps on the skip button before it skips. Frustrating. I can’t skip fast enough and I’m not alone, and they know it.

Then there are the long form spots, the 15-minute variety. Some of these spots are longer than the programming. If you let these play the entire way through, you no longer remember the sentence or whatever, when the ad cut off your program. The people behind these platforms do not care about your brand, about your potential customers, or your sales. They only care about their sales; not about the negative impression they are fomenting about your brand.

When programming, networks and advertisers work together to create a quality experience everyone benefits. This is the power of the traditional broadcast model. It’s not too late to fix it, to get back to delivering a quality experience. The broadcast networks need to fight back with better programming. YouTube needs to go to school. Netflix is now entering the fray with the “free version.” Perhaps they’ll do a better job.

In the meantime, we’re all paying the price.

When I founded Brandforming, I began to work with archetypes and their application to brands. The idea of brand as archetype was not something new but I sought to bring something new to it. Combining the use of archetypes with primary and secondary market research, coupled with a client workshop, has proven powerful in the creation of meaningful brand ideas.

I brought this discipline to my work at Skidmore College. Each semester, I invite a client into my classroom. The students are challenged to assess the client brand and generate new brand ideas. Last year we took the challenge from a company working in the social media space. To better understand the dynamics at work within the social media landscape, I asked the students to select the top social media brands relevant to the client business.

Here are the social media brands that made the cut, in no particular order: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Spotify, YouTube, SnapChat, Instagram, TikTok, Linkedin.

I led them through a workshop to identify the archetypes that most closely expressed the essence of each social media brand. The utility of the exercise would do two things; allow us to better position the client social media offering and suggest content strategies grounded in an understanding of the archetypes. Some of the results are self-evident, others may be a bit surprising. There were 19 of us participating in the workshop. You can judge the outcome for yourself. (See the graphic for the results.)

In our assessment, it was clear that many brands were repurposing the same content across their social media. With little regard for the deeper meaning inherent in each social media brand, the content often felt completely out of place and intrusive. In fact, some of it was downright annoying. The unconscious meaning of each social media brand, its archetype, offers opportunity to support (or contradict) client brands.

Understanding the archetype of each social media platform gives client brands an edge.

It does not mean you should abandon your brand’s archetype. What it does afford, is the ability to be more selective about which social platforms may be best suited to your brand. Additionally, brands can leverage the archetype of their chosen social media by leaning into those aspects of their own brand most relevant in that context.

Social media is a powerful tool for brands. There is no better or best platform. There is, however, a great deal of room for improvement in how brands are utilizing these media.

Going deeper into the emotional characteristics of each social platform holds great promise to improve results.

There was a time when almost all media was inclusive. The old analogue days of 13 TV Channels, rooftop antennae, a handful of news programing and perhaps a few dozen major newspapers and magazines. There were some specialized publications, and radio stations were somewhat local, but they were the exceptions. Media was broadly casted by a limited number of producers, reaching millions of people.

Today almost all media is exclusive. Everyone is a specialist, if not due to content, then due to targeting. Even the national and international outlets cater to regional influence, and why not? Effective targeting is also about giving your audience what they want. Or what they think they want. Or what you think they want. Or what the AI predictive models think they want. It’s enough to make us toss our hands into the air and just default to something that feels safe for our brand. Something with hopefully broad appeal that we can run anywhere, hoping our audience will self-identify.

Our segmentation modeling is so divided, it’s become segmentation meddling. Exclusivity in media is a problematic reality if we stick to outdated norms of thinking. Let’s put aside the fact that it has created a platform for every nutjob with a computer and look at what it means for brands. A world of distractions in a distracted world.

Across the paid, owned and earned media landscape, there is now endless fractionalization of your audience which diminishes the reach of your brand. Not because the media is not reaching the target, but because the targets are polarized by the fragmentation.

This polarization is a buzzkill for what might otherwise be a campaign that would jump the chasm into popular culture.

What is popular culture when culture is now unpopular?

Cultural fragmentation may not impact too negatively on major legacy brands, assuming they stay out of harms way.  But for newer, smaller brands, success means obsessively focusing on a minimal viable audience. Connecting with this audience and delivering real value to these customers will motivate them as culture ambassadors for your brand. These ambassadors will help the brand bridge to additional culture communities as they share their experience.

Bridging is the major action of digital media. It amplifies the power of word-of-mouth, of shared positive brand experience and helps drive brand growth.

Specificity should be a core part of your strategic and creative development. Create for one specific group of potential customers and build from the core.

In truth, this thinking is nothing new. Perhaps it’s been forgotten. Some brands have not forgotten. Patagonia is one example of a brand that has always been entirely specific in its audience goals and campaign platform. It puts its values of honoring and protecting nature into all it does and communicates. Its current market value is $3 Billion and recently the founder, Yvon Chouinard determined to give it all away to help save our planet.

Patagonia’s specificity of purpose, planning, action, and communication recently arrived in my mailbox in the form of a Patagonia publication, a magazine celebrating people and nature. This is no catalogue of merchandise but a catalog of beliefs and values, and it’s printed on 100% post-consumer recycled paper. It’s a home run in my opinion. I’m a nature fan boy and have, over the years, purchased Patagonia clothing. I still have most of it. It wears like iron. Built to last, not to be discarded. The user experience of the product aligns completely with the mission and values of the company.

This alignment includes Patagonia’s use of media: specific, focused, and effective. You may point out that they use the mail channel to reach me. Why not?  It’s a great tactic when used correctly. The publication has value, will be passed on and then recycled. But there is a bit more to it. Within the pub, there are URL’s that lead us deeper into the stories. This publication is a well-integrated driver of brand engagement.

Exclusive media means exclusive opportunities to Head For The Heart.

What was true during the American Revolution is still true today and applies equally well to the media. Better together.

The hyperbolic segmentation of media is a landscape of diminishing returns. With some notable exceptions, media performance reviews leave more questions than answers.

The ideal scenario is one of ever improving ROI as refinements are made, not only in the creative, but critically in the media buy. To optimize results also means lowering costs.

Media technology companies have extraordinary ability to target and segment audiences and should generate strong results. At least that’s the goal. Conversely, too much segmentation can drive up costs, reduce ROI and add to the confusion.

Media-tech is very good but, in their ambition to drive their technology forward they have lost the thread. Media strategists and buyers have a tough challenge to untangle the gordian knot. Brands deserve optimized ROI, not more ways to spend money on media.

The right media mix is not a kitchen junk drawer of guess work. The right mix more closely resemble a well-organized silverware drawer.

Too often, media cannot explain itself and the default is to start faulting the creative work. It may indeed deserve the criticism, but it should not be the first place we look for improvement.

Here’s why, media spread sheets look like certainty but just as often, turn out to be an inexplicable hot mess. All you need do is ask a few probing questions. Don’t take my word for it.

Before the creative ever hit the media, it has been developed with audience insight and research and goes out into the world with some earned confidence.

Thanks to vast segmentation and targeting, media today needs to be considered within the discipline of direct response. Direct response methodology would employ control and test groups to refine the mix and optimize results to a final plan. Then, with incremental decisions, make adjustments with A/B splits of media and creative to achieve optimization.

This approach at first appears more costly but in the long run achieves optimization with assurance. Quarterly readouts of media performance are insufficient for the dynamic nature of media today. Monthly readouts in context of a rolling 30-day strategic plan that seeks optimization and learning offer brands increased efficiency and confidence.

If done correctly, ROI modeling utilizes segmentation as a tool and not an end in itself.

Part of my work at Skidmore College as the F. William Harder Chair Professor of Business Administration includes the recruitment and production of an annual lecture.

Each year, a speaker is recruited and asked to present to the students a topic within their areas of interest and expertise. This year, it was me.

The link to the lecture: https://vimeo.com/557756796

If you’re working in the industry, it’s important to keep in mind that the audience for this presentation are students. The age range is 18-22. Their context as young adults is a world in which they have never known anything other than digital media and social media. To draw out the importance of this context, I will point out here that as part of the boomer generation I grew up with TV. I never knew a world without TV. My parents, part of the silent generation, grew up with radio; TV for them was a transformative technology. For my generation, digital has been a transformative technology. For these students, generation Z, digital is nothing new at all. However, their challenge is gaining some perspective, not simply on the past but also about where we are today and, if I did a decent job, suggestions to motivate their own work and understanding going forward.

This is academic work and is shared here in that context for that purpose. The work used to illustrate the presentation were derived from various sources, most of it my own, some of it sourced from various on-line resources available to the public. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, this lecture was delivered virtually.

I hope you find it insightful.

Smart Brand Managers are forever scrutinizing the value they are gaining from their agencies.

The ad industry is forever trying to accurately respond to the old quip, attributed to John Wannamaker, “Half of the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”

Recently, Marc Pritchard of Unilever announced their “People First” initiative. As stated in CampaignLive; “a structure in which talent from roster agencies across holding groups are brought together under one roof to service the FMCG giant’s North American fabric care business.”

This is a client doing everything he can to unlock value from these relationships for his brands. Multiple agencies, multiple brands, massive media spend, redundancy and not enough of a payoff; or at least that’s what we can infer from the directive.

I don’t know Marc Pritchard, but really appreciate his efforts not to throw the baby out with the bath water. In the article he talks about bringing all the various agency creative together as a new model effort to find value by uniting the agencies in one collaborative effort.

I’ve run huge global brand development sessions with agency partners and client brand teams from all over the world. The largest initiative included participants from 16 countries. The approach can work miracles in ideation and equally important in getting everyone on the same page. Getting everyone on the same page with a big brand idea requires great talent in the room, a hugely collaborative effort, and egos left behind.

Believe it or not, it is rarely the creatives who do not play well with others.

The minute the big idea is agreed, it’s the agency business leads who start tearing at the budget like lions on a kill. Unless a client is willing to address the budget and compensation in an equally unilateral manner, it is very tough to make the collaboration stick.

I’ve worked on both Unilever and P&G brands and these are smart people with massive resources and still they are struggling to realize the promised value in the age of “new media.”

A big culprit is the industries’ addiction to its own hype.

The ad industry did not invent Google, or Facebook or any of the other super creative things that are reshaping the world; all we do is figure out how to monetize these things to our advantage and now clients are finally asking; How do all these exciting pieces of content you create make me money and build my brand?  Clearly there is benefit; but how much return is in that investment?  Spending less on creative and eliminating this redundancy is helpful to a brand if all the collaboration works out; but this is a client-driven attempt to solve an industry problem. We need to get better; showing and proving our value in context of the media and not just the execution itself.

Possibly one of the worst things to have happened in the advertising industry is when media was cleaved off from the agencies and became independent. It is not a matter of church and state; it is a matter of execution of ideas, and ideas cannot be separated from the media that gives voice to their expression.

Blockchain could save the media environment for brands. There has been much written about how blockchain might result in greater transparency in media buying and tracking. If it all works as conceived, it will also be a boon for content creators, enabling direct engagement with audiences and direct payment too. This has the potential to put more leverage back on the side of creators like musicians, film makers, photographers, writers and journalists too. The early interest in NFT’s point to success. Time will tell.

Blockchain has potential to minimize fake news and level set social media.

This is particularly important for brands. Of course, the success of any given blockchain at minimizing fake news will entirely depend on the integrity of its creators and managers. It could just as easily be used to legitimize fake news and fake news sources.

For legacy media outlets, with legitimate journalistic integrity, like the NY Times, fake news is rarely, if ever, an issue. Ads served in this context are elevated by the integrity of the enterprise.

In social media, brands end up in the unchecked context of the user; uncorroborated reporting, fabricated events and misinformation.

Corroborated reporting is a hallmark of journalistic integrity.

Blockchain has the potential to force down a governance of integrity through corroboration and help social platforms maintain social integrity. In effect, this would give brand managers and media buyers leverage, insight and security.

This would also reward journalistic integrity of the blockchain with greater ad volume and minimize fake news, slowly choking off its source of income. Fake news has become a game that is undermining our culture. Advertisers on social platforms have an obligation to uphold the integrity of media environments because there is so much at risk.

Fake news is a not just a race to the bottom, it is the bottom.

Does Facebook invade your privacy?

Facebook and the Web, in more general terms, and other technologies have redefined what is possible in terms of worm-holing into our lives. This is old news at this point. What’s a little shocking is that the social media wunderkinds come across as unaware and apologetic, as if they have no clue of the havoc they have wrought.

Can they be that ignorant of their own business model? Of course not. They just assume the rest of us will keep buying the aw-shucks act.

I’m a fan of the European opt-in model, and I think more Americans should be as well.  Here’s why: All this invasive technology is not going to stop; in fact, it’s going to get worse, much, much worse. As the internet of things comes on-line, more and more aspects of our lives will be under the microscope, more data, ever more personal.

As Americans, we are a bit naive on the topic of privacy and the abuses of privacy that have gone on and continue to go on all over the world.

We live in a country that ostensibly does not make a habit of spying on its citizens. And even if we’ve crossed that line on occasion, for the most part, we’ve been spared the abuses of family members disappearing forever in the middle of the night at the hands of our government. God Bless our democracy.

But this happens every day in many other countries. Can it happen here? Do these newer technologies threaten our personal security and freedoms? What is happening is that big business is spying on us, and we’re gleefully letting them make scads of money while many Americans struggle to survive. But who owns the right to your data? Who owns the right to profit from it more than you? The big question is, who owns the internet? Social media exploited a free communications channel, one made free by our government funding the internet. Does our government maintain rights over the internet? Will they exercise these rights to protect us? Will the government step-in and leverage available data from these businesses to help protect our privacy?  These are vexing questions. That’s why I favor the opt-in model. Opt-in will not solve the privacy problem completely but it is a step in the right direction. By default our privacy should be protected.

Social media have built business models that exploit our privacy and have become extremely profitable as a result.

Not only does the model make money selling our user data, it’s also sells a lot of ads. The majority of these ads are useless and annoying clutter, the junk mail of the internet. What value are they providing? To my mind, there is very little exchange of value beyond the revenue generated to the social media platforms and those clients that have the types of transactional business models that profit from the mercurial, whim-based purchases of a bored and distracted populace.

When we subscribe to a print publication, we opt-in. We’re agreeing the publication provides value to us in some equal measure of our money. Why should online media channels get to play by different rules? Especially since we are the ones producing the content. Opt-in increases the value exchange and gives us a voice in the matter. Ideally, it also forces a quality dynamic down on the media channel and the advertisers.

Opt-in has the potential to open the door to more competition; which of course, will drive improvements in the marketplace.

The businesses thriving from our interactions and data are never going to change until we, the content generators, demand it.

Luxury brands succeed by creating connections with their buyers through insights that leverage value against deep seated emotional needs.

These emotional values last a lifetime because they are not driven by trends but rather by qualities inherent in the buyer. Understanding these connections is at the heart of branding. At one time, the bespoke nature of true luxury brands limited their audiences to all but the most-wealthy. Today this dynamic is radically changed.

With the advent of mass customization and highly controlled product releases, within the mass market framework, luxury has come to mean many different things to different people.

Luxury brands of the truly bespoke type still do exist however.  The audience for these brands continues to expand with the growth of global prosperity. The internet has made these brands more accessible than ever which means that Haute Couture brands like Monvieve now enjoy a global clientele.

A designer and maker of bespoke bridal fashions, Monvieve is unique in the world of fashion design. They are an accessible luxury with heirloom quality. Derived from old world craftsmanship and a highly refined aesthetic Monvieve stands above all others. It is a luxury of pleasurable, aesthetically framed memories. These are #MonvieveMoments and this is the heart of the brand.

Working closely with the creative director and owner of Monvieve, Alison Miller, we’ve been carefully crafting #MonvieveMoments. From our participation at the global destination wedding planners conference in Florence, to our shoot at the Belmond Villa San Michele. From a new showroom in NYC, to video production, and the U.S. launch event at the Italian Embassy in Washington D.C., it’s been a series of #MonvieveMoments all its own.

The event launch video is below.