Always On: Why The Product Is Now The Ad
(Reprinted from Modernista’s Blog.)
Some agencies steeped in decades of mainstream media may be locked in to a mode of thought in which they see their primary “product” as making ads. Of course, we all know what ads are, but I can’t resist a penchant for defining things, so here goes: It’s a compelling, memorable mini-experience in audio, print, or interactive form that interrupts the channel you’re engaged with, influences your perceptionB, and motivates you to take action. The only people who think of ads as “products” are the people who create them (agencies) and the people who work with agencies to create them (clients).
But with the digital disruption underway and still in its infancy, agencies are starting to move beyond thinking of ads as products, and shifting to the idea that digital and social media products, and the user experiences they offer, represent a new form of embedded self advertising. Some examples:
- The Kindle, with its built-in Whispernet connection, provides a great e-book reading experience, but also contains within it an always-on “advertising” and sales channel right back to Amazon’s entire inventory of e-books (725,000+ and growing).
- The iPhone contains an incredible ad for its own App marketplace.
- Adwords and adsense are deeply embedded into Google’s search product, in which search is advertising and advertising is search.
- Facebook understands that your social network and the recommendations and actions of that network are a dramatic new form of advertising customized by your social connections.
Since these devices contain embedded marketplaces and storefronts, they need not interrupt the channel experience. Today’s great products approach design and technology with the understanding that a great user experience advertises itself and sells itself.
Some core skills of great agencies are well-suited to this new landscape: incredible creativity, layered storytelling, deep understanding of design, strategic capabilities, and brand-building chops. But a focus on interruptions rather than destinations, and a focus on external third-party channels rather than ones baked right into product and platform experiences, can be an Achilles’ heel.
The self-advertising that product thinking represents requires new approaches that put the user’s experience of utility and value first. The experience can support users and enable them to opt in to embedded purchase decisions at their own pace. The experience itself needs to be designed with acquisition, ongoing engagement, and retention in mind. Today’s best digital devices and Web-based products and platforms represent an always-on channel. This mode of “advertising” has the longest shelf life possible: It lasts as long as people remain engaged with the experience itself.
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