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What Happened to Cross Media Marketing?

Riddle Wrapped Inside an Enigma

The benefits of seamless cohesion in a company’s marketing efforts across all media are obvious. The problem is actually carrying out this integration on a large scale in the real world. As the size of an organization increases, control becomes ever more decentralized, making it tremendously difficult to unite all marketing efforts under the auspices of single functional unit. In the past, it has also been difficult to develop a unified front on multiple channels because of the intricacies of dealing with myriad unrelated media companies. Scheduling, budgeting, campaign analysis, etc. become an immense challenge when trying to coordinate with multiple entities at several levels on various channels.

The emergence of massive media conglomerates, such as AOL Time Warner, Viacom, and Vivendi, promised to simplify this process by uniting all media channels under a single flag. In addition, these mega-media companies anticipated significant cost savings due to the elimination of overlapping functions, with part of that savings then being passed along to the media buyers. So what happened? Why are most of these behemoths struggling and turning away from pushing cross media packages to all of their clients?

Answering the Sphinx

The quick and easy answer is that the economy (which has been sluggish over the past two years and which has had a particularly strong effect on the advertising industry) has sapped huge amounts of revenue from the coffers of these companies at a critical time in their evolution. The massive mergers and acquisitions that formed these giants left them with huge debts weighing on their balance sheets. Falling revenues, burdensome debt, and poor economic sentiment equal layoffs, spin-offs, and in the worst cases Chapter 11.

While there is no doubt that the sinking economy has been a major contributing factor to the current difficulties that these media companies (and the idea of media convergence itself) are experiencing, it is not the only reason – perhaps it is not even the primary reason. So what are the other problems preventing the greater proliferation of cross media marketing?

To answer this question, it is necessary to look at how these companies are presenting cross media deals. In general, when a representative develops a proposal, the focus is on a specific channel, say television or print, while the other elements (especially online) are mainly ancillary – the proverbial frosting on the cake. Does this truly constitute a cross media package? Not really. Metaphorically, account executives are used to thinking in one or two dimensions. Now that they are given a third dimension to work with, many are uncertain about how to capitalize on it and they continue to limit their thinking to two dimensions.

Another weakness appears once cross media campaigns reach the creative development level. Integrating the creatives and messaging across all channels is difficult to coordinate when one team is working on television, another is involved in designing the print creative, another is developing radio ads, and yet another is putting together the Internet program. Messaging and thematic elements are not terribly difficult to coordinate, but developing a program that is truly interdependent, with each arm presenting a piece of the puzzle such that when they are combined a new picture emerges, is utterly unmanageable when the creative teams are fractionalized. To achieve this level of synergy, the teams must work directly with each other.

Giving It the Old College Try

One has only to look at a few attempts at cross media campaigns to illustrate these points. The advertising extravaganza associated with this year’s Superbowl provided us with several crossover campaigns from major advertisers. Pepsi and AT&T Wireless both decided to try the waters of true integration, but one was successful while the other was abandoned soon after the initial push. What was the crucial difference between these two campaigns – what factor spelled success for one and failure for the other?

Ignoring the fact that the Pepsi campaign was dedicated to one of most recognized brands in the world while the AT&T mLife campaign was attempting to establish a completely new brand, the answer lies, to a certain extent, in the follow-through. Pepsi’s campaign featured a series of commercials set in different decades, each starring the ever-popular Brittany Spears. Teaming up with Yahoo, Pepsi promoted a website where consumers could go to view clips of the unreleased commercials and vote on which one would air during the Superbowl. Following the Superbowl airing of the winning commercial, the others began rotation nationally. In addition to the Web and television, other ads on other media, including radio, were used to drive consumers to the website. Pepsi’s campaign was universally proclaimed a hit.

In contrast, the AT&T Wireless mLife campaign was an unfortunate flop. During the Superbowl, AT&T Wireless ran a series of mysterious commercials about some new service called mLife. The spots urged consumers to visit a website to learn more about the unknown new offering. In the weeks following the Superbowl, another series of commercials were run that demystified the mLife service. The initial response to the Superbowl ad was immense – the campaign succeed in driving people to their website. From there, the program fell apart. After several weeks, it was obvious that the campaign was an utter failure by nearly all metrics, and it was therefore scrapped.

Denouement

What did Pepsi do right that AT&T did wrong? Pepsi’s program was fully integrated – the Internet was a stepping-stone to the television commercials, which eventually returned the consumer to the Internet. AT&T dumped consumers on the mLife website and left them to fend for themselves. Pepsi created an interactive aspect that allowed people to directly participate in the program, while AT&T did not. Due to Brittany Spears’ immense popularity, the Pepsi spots where sticky, while the AT&T ads were completely unengaging once a consumer understood the mLife service. In short, Pepsi had all of the pieces in the right order, while AT&T was missing a few here and there.

So, is there a future for elegant cross media marketing campaigns that take full advantage of each channel to paint the final picture? Of course, but it will take time. Nothing happens overnight, especially in the current abysmal economic climate. The AOL Time Warners and Vivendis are still working out the bugs and ad executives and creative teams are still struggling to unite their efforts, but the pressure to make these deals work is coming from the top, the bottom, and every which way. As the economy strengthens and marketing budgets once again expand, we will see media convergence come to full fruition.