January 2008 - Rick Petry

Permission Slip

By Rick Petry

When I started in the ad business during the late 1980s and the fledgling days of cable television, new networks such as HGTV and Speed Network were referred to as “narrowcast networks”-the prevailing wisdom being that such content would only appeal to a niche audience. Little did the industry realize that the offspring of this programming such as “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” and the now ubiquitous NASCAR would actually be among the highest-rated programming in television. But then, there have been many axioms over the years that have bitten the dust.

As the Internet supplants television as the dominant mass media, other universal truisms of yore seem especially quaint. Here’s one: manufacturers will never sell direct to consumers for fear of disenfranchising their retailers. Right-the same retailers who are cutting out the manufacturer with direct importation and private labeling. And how about this dictum ready for the mothballs: online sales will never be the equal of traditional brick-and-mortar retail because of consumers’ security fears, desire to touch the product, etc. Meanwhile, researcher TNS Retail Forward estimates Q4 2007 sales at brick-and-mortar retailers to have increased an anemic 3.3 percent, while online sales growth for the same period is forecast at a robust 20 percent.

Conclusion: the more things change the more they…change. Which is why I cannot understand why many in our industry insist on clinging to an outmoded television model when it comes to the Internet. Television is, after all, largely a linear experience, despite new technology that enables time shifting. Conversely, surfing the Internet is a wholly non-linear experience where one narrowcasts their stream of consciousness, with their interests freewheeling like a pinball. Yet, many DR marketers simply stream their TV marcom from end-to-end, rather than organizing their content into easy-to-navigate and downloadable buckets that address their consumers’ most common objections.

Further, when I am looking to buy something on the Internet-a common occurrence given my genetic code is tied to a string of collectors-what I am really seeking is permission to buy. And buy I do, when the marketer organizes the site so it is easy to address my questions, secure the permission I seek, fill my shopping cart and check out. Yet, I am astounded at how frequently marketers turn such quests into a series of dead ends or worse, dump out the contents of my shopping cart simply because I dared to hit a back button.

This last sin reminds me of what happened when my firstborn was but a wee tot and, while his mother was unloading her overflowing cart, she discovered his diaper had exploded all over the basket. She abandoned said trolley, leaving the mess for some hapless flunky to deal with. Forgive the lubricious analogy, but it contains yet another axiom: no one wants to deal with someone else’s, uh, slip-even if it’s their own flesh and blood. And, if that’s the case, imagine the standard expected of direct marketers. Maybe Spring cleaning should start early this year.

Rick Petry is the immediate past chairman of ERA and a freelance writer and consultant. He can be reached at (503) 740-9065, or via e-mail at [email protected].


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