TOC Aphrodite's Apple Appeal or Marketing as Art Your Turn

Despite his marketing acumen, Steve Jobs has a way to go. Can he really best whoever was in charge of marketing Kazakhstan before Borat (1)? While the Bible keeps mum on what was the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, this unknown product placement genius got us all to think it was an apple, the fruit from Kazakhstan, with Satan as its advertising agent (12/12/06 fillip). Object of sinful desire, the apple is also a sign of discord, which Paris was bid to give to the one most fair (09/12/06 fillip). Yet no mud sticks to this wonder product, witness the following story (2).

Hippomenes' problem, as consultants would put it, was to win a footrace against someone faster than him and gain her hand or else lose his head. To accept such a bargain in the first place the youth had already lost his head over this hard to catch Atalanta. To prevent reality from overtaking its image, Hippomenes could count on Aphrodite's services who provided him with three golden apples. The solution was then to stake it all on an early burst of speed and skillfully drop an apple each time Atalanta got close. This is advertising at its best. Offered apropos when the target wishes to be distracted, the message did bear fruit. Atalanta got her apples plus Hippomenes' love.

I am not known as a big fan of advertisers, whom I castigate as one of the three unprincipled plagues of eprivacy (5/30/06 and 7/25/06 fillips). My issue though is not with advertising per se, indispensable a commercial activity as it is, but with the behavior of most advertisers. Why not then let them speak for themselves? According to Mercedes Erra, Executive Co-Chairman of Euro RSCG Worldwide, a respected authority (12/05/06 fillip) who recently gave her views on the subject (3), good advertising combines a strong message with creative communication.

Let us today ignore how the message comes into being and concentrate on its communication. My alarms are justified by the intense pressure put by marketing communication on individual privacy. This pressure, which receives no remedy from the laws of economics, manifests itself in two ways.

First the need to target customers ever more precisely causes an unquenchable thirst for private information. While the intentions of the advertiser may be pure, the temptation to be invasive is great (12/12/06 fillip). And once confidential data has been made accessible, who can truly claim to control the corresponding records (1/23/07 fillip)? They will leak overtime into less honorable hands. The banking and credit industries have been the traditional lead characters in past ID theft-related scandals. Last summer AOL gave a black eye to the search industry (8/29/06 fillip). Now Jenn Abelson reminds us risks to consumers are just as great in the retail industry (*).

Especially worrysome is this quote: "some analysts believe store databases are becoming even more valuable than stolen merchandise". For a store manager will do his or her best to protect the merchandise he or she owns. But where is the economic incentive to do the same for someone else's property ? In fact aren't we still waiting for the legal recognition of our rights to ownership of our own data (5/30/06 fillip)?

Second the difficulty to reach customers targeted by a message creates an ever faster armament race. The more technology allows consumers to skip advertisements, the more obnoxious advertisers become in order to grab their attention (1/02/07 fillip).

Unfortunately consumer attention is a truly rare resource which cannot be extended (6/27/06 fillip). Yet it remains totally free. Free is of course a slight misnomer. True, consumers are unable to fully monetize the value of their limited time. In their stead media spring up to auction off ad space and reap the benefits of rationing scarcity while bearing a fraction of the cost. There is no economic limit in sight to Google's mind-boggling gobbling up advertisers' budgets.

If one is an advertiser with a conscience, is there a solution then? Mercedes Erra gives us its characteristics: ads ought to "[have] more quality, [be] more spectacular and more interesting". There is, I believe, not one solution but two.

The first one is as simple as it is elusive. Raise advertising communication to the level of public art and people will notice. Obviously not art for art's sake, a very recent concept. Rather Kheops had his pyramid built, the Athenian democracy financed its Parthenon, King Louis XIV of France planned Versailles to advertise their dominant power. Closer to us and despite opposing opinions from some quarters, I find Paris' Metro a better place than Boston's MBTA in part because superior advertising enlivens its stations.

No surprise then if performance art and marketing campaigns have of late become bedfellows. This is the phenomenon behind the Great Boston Scare of last week as reported by Louise Story (**) and analysed by Adam Hanft (***). In a city which lost so many citizens in the planes commandeered by the September 11 terrorists, sticking black boxes to underpasses without telling anyone for the purpose of flashing an ad to passersby was lacking in sensitivity. Modern art of course is not especially known for its refined taste nor its great respect towards sacred icons and established authorities.

What about the second solution? Answer a private desire and engage the consumer in a dialog about it when he or she is opened to such an exchange. Is this an oxymoron since finding the right time and the right arguments seems to imply a total invasion of privacy? Not with ePrio's technology (6/20/06 fillip), which marries absolute confidentiality and personalization to beget meaningful interactions. Mercedes Erra has warned us though. Modifying the behavior of consumers is quite difficult and, may I add, changing the habits of advertisers is just as hard.

Meanwhile, by combining what must have been a heart-stopping public performance and the clever answer to Atalanta's private desires, Hippomenes has already raised the bar.

Philippe Coueignoux

  • (*) ...... Risks mount as stores mine a wealth of shopper data, by Jenn Abelson (Boston Globe) - February 4, 2007
  • (**) ... A Boston Marketing Stunt That Bombed, or DId It?, by Louise Story (New-York Times) - February 2, 2007
  • (***) . Terror Network, by Adam Hanft (Boston Globe) - February 4, 2007
  • (1) see Borat in the Wikipedia
  • (2) see Hippomenes in the Wikipedia
  • (3) When advertising rethinks its creative ideas, by Mercedes Erra, minutes (in French) courtesy of CÚdric Vilatte, l'Ecole de Paris du Management.
February 2007
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