While the reasons that I don’t own a TV do include that I’m too cheap for cable and that I like the feeling of superiority I get when reporting my television-free existence, the primary motive by far is that I can’t stand commercials. I know, I’m a marketing person or whatever, so I shouldn’t say that, but I believe that the current format of TV commercials is on its way out. This delightful assumption is due almost entirely to the fact that the current format of how we watch TV is also about to exist stage left.
I know this because the research people say that everyone else in my generation is doing the same thing I am. What they say, those smart sons-of-guns (that is the correct plural, by the way. I checked Wikipedia) is that since we, the Millennial’s, are the first generation who have been marketed to since the day we were born, and thus we are especially savvy to commercials. In fact, we pretty much see through them, or at least the way they used to be.
My hope for a brave new world free of television commercials was further piqued when I noticed how commercials have changed. A product no longer appears on the screen with a bullet-pointed list of its attributes. No, no – sometimes the product isn’t even mentioned. About a decade ago, marketers began to understand that we can’t be fooled by forthrightly-stated advertising claims because we know they are as likely to be false or exaggerated as they were true. So, for the first time, marketers started to change their product to cater to a more savvy audience. That is when commercials started to be funny.
Because we trust people who make us laugh; why shouldn’t we trust brands for the same reason? It seems like the brand “gets” us because it gets our sense of humor. Who cares what the marketing claim is? You trust a brand you like to produce good things for you.
But just as we we expect more from our human relationships than a constant string of jokes, brands are now learning that humor along cannot fool customers into thinking brands are our friends forever. Enter social media. Now, not only do brands have to impress us with their product and make us like them as a person (something they are not), but they have to get us to opt-in to letting them market to us. I pick who I follow on Facebook and Twitter. I choose who gets to put their message in front of my face. If I see an ad I don’t like on Facebook or on Hulu, I just tell them. And they stop showing me crap I’m not interested in.
Oh, the power! It’s just like the marketing study gurus promised! My Millennial buddies and I will change advertising forever by getting in the driver’s seat ourselves. We are the kings, not the corporations! We won!
And then I heard this: according to a recent article in on Mashable, 12.3 million people “like” Skittles on Facebook. That’s 12.3 million people who said, “Yeah, I think I’d like to allow Skittles to advertise to me every day. I think my valuable time and cluttered social media life needs to include the latest available color or flavor of Skittle. Every. Day.”
But that’s not true, is it? Though it is a fact that by clicking that they “Like” Skittles, those 12.3 million Facebook users actually requested that the candy company’s messages be included in their stream of daily updates, that is sort of difficult to know for a casual Facebook user, isn’t it? They “like” their friends’ comments, they “like” blog posts they read, so it seems like are doing the same thing by “liking” Skittles. They’re just communicating a preference to their network of friends, right? Nope. Now are we starting to see why Facebook changed their verbiage from “fan” to “like” on pages?
Naturally, Skittles is not alone. Oreo has 13.1 million “likes” and Coke has 16.5 million. This is the state of marketing right now. While I might be super geeked that my sincerest hope that lame TV commercials as I knew them might be near their demise, it’s not exactly a utopia of consumer power out there. The real trick of opt-in marketing is that, unlike before when we could blame the mean dudes in suits behind the TV commercials for the crap we’re inundated with on a daily basis, we’re now going to have to start blaming ourselves.
On a related note, when you now go through and “unlike” all the crap you accidentally “liked” on FB, be sure to stay connected to all the pages I manage, as those are, naturally, the good, un-evil, non-obnoxious marketing messages that you should want to hear. [Smiles and bats eyelashes at you sweetly.]