Brands are at a crossroads.
They arrived years ago — many didn’t realize it.
The world that brands knew transformed almost overnight. Consumers had met them at that intersection and said hi, but without much meaningful exchange kept on moving while many brands sat and tried to figure out what language they were speaking. In short, the future had arrived but the narrator [brands] kept harkening back to and living in the distant past while the story moves on.
There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission…
That creepy, Orwellian statement may be a cornerstone of the classic television show The Outer Limits, but it very well could also represent a decades-old line of thinking held by many top media and brand executives.
Since the first public radio broadcast transmitted a live Metropolitan Opera House performance on January 13, 1910, head brand honchos have held a Kung Fu death grip on the entertainment that people see and hear. They decided the shows, the schedules, the actors, everything — all of it part of a seemingly unconquerable monopoly where what they said always went and consumers would follow suit without question.
…If we wish to make it louder, we will bring up the volume. If we wish to make it softer, we will tune it to a whisper. We will control the horizontal. We will control the vertical. We can roll the image; make it flutter. We can change the focus to a soft blur or sharpen it to crystal clarity. For the next hour, sit quietly and we will control all that you see and hear…
Brands overtly announced their control over media and, over time, grew complacent with their power. Unimaginable by many brands, a shift began creating cracks in that seemingly impervious foundation. Technology, their one-time ally, had started secretly supplying the other side, the consumer.
Consumers are taking control and leaving brands scrambling for the scraps. Over the last several years, “cord cutter” has become an increasingly popular term describing people who are abandoning traditional media methods like Television in lieu of more user-controlled options.
With the advancing advent of DVR, RedBox, Netflix, Hulu, PlutoTV, and Roku Channel, among others, along with big-budget films debuting exclusively on streaming services instead of at the movie theater, consumers have found they can now view what they want, when they want, without much interference.
Pricing has also become a critical factor, with media outlets like cable television losing more and more support. People are finding they no longer have to spend $70+ a month on something they may watch only before going to bed, on the weekends, or can get for free with an HD TV antennae—a horrifying thought for cable companies. Instead, they are finding cheaper alternatives that allow them to make decisions once reserved for those at the top of the media food chain.
Unsurprisingly, “taking control” continues to rise in popularity and has become a staple of younger generations, who are growing up experiencing a completely different culture of media consisting of cheap or free, on-demand options. Gone are the days of ABC’s TGIF, the importance of weekly TV time slots, and brands that dictate the who, what, when, where, and why of interaction.
No longer do TV shows live and die on how often their time slots and days are shuffled. No longer are families and friends subordinate to media executives, forced to encircle a stationary device at a specific time on a specific day while bombarded by an increasing number of advertisements shrouding a shrinking amount of actual desired content.
The mobile online and digital experience is where the focus of most young people is, much like for almost every other industry, and that presents a unique challenge for those on top… and a prime opportunity for smaller brands that don’t have marketing budgets that resemble the GDP of a small nation.
Will Virtual Reality become more mainstream? As in Ready Player One, is the future of branding found within those infinite worlds?
Does the increasingly segmented digital world become so fractured on so many apps, websites, streaming services, and social networks that brands have to rely more and more on highly niched “tribes” just to sustain themselves?
Or does tech burnout seep into upcoming generations and the pendulum swings entirely back the other way, making real reality key with environmental branding and guerilla marketing becoming more important?
As the old saying goes, change is the only constant.
Like most aspects of life, moderation is key. Meshing the growing allure of the digital world with the irreplaceability of reality to provide a balanced experience is ultimately what draws people in and keeps them coming back for more without burning out. This is significant for brands, now and in the future, that commit to jumping on with the latest trend without thinking long-term.
While brand executives have taken some steps to regain power, the media industries quickly need to re-evaluate themselves and adapt to the changing habits of today’s society, which is forming the new structures of how consumers interact with those who wish to gain some semblance of control. If they need ideas on how to approach the situation, they may want to go beyond their outer limits. Will your brand remain stationary on that crossroad, or will it catch up with those who are truly in power?