Back from the dead? James Hurman on the new mass media

Around 50 industry heavyweights, middleweights and lightweights shunned the Ranfurly Shield match last night and instead gathered together at Studio Lumiere in Parnell to talk television. And, particularly, to talk about what the future held for television advertising. Colenso’s planning director James Hurman, MediaWorks chief executive Jason Paris and Image Centre Group’s Mike Hutcheson enlightened, extrapolated and entertained in equal measure as part of Pure Production’s Death, Taxes and TVCs event and, in the first of three posts about each of the presentations, we delve into James Hurman’s thoughts on what he feels is a misconception about the death of mass marketing and media.

The belief that mass marketing is dead certainly isn’t a new one, he says. It was an opinion he was hearing way back in 1997, the same year the Allied Dunbar commercial below was made by Grey London when he was working in the IT department and checking cords under people’s desks (it was also the same year smoking was banned in the Grey offices).

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In 2001, he says, the mutterings about the inability to simply buy awareness with TV continued apace. And less traditional forms of advertising, such as ambient, came into focus. Some of the ambient campaigns of the time were based on pretty cool ideas, like the manhole covers for Flying Nun, but, at the same time, he says they also seemed to be specifically designed to be seen by the smallest number of people possible.

But while they may not have been very effective, he believes these ideas were the first small steps toward the kinds of things agencies like Colenso are doing now, like building restaurants in trees and seeding a bit of mystery with elaborate jetpack hoaxes (he wouldn’t say if it was fake, but it is).

Around the same time, a host of popular zeitgeist-defining books were released, such as Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point and Adam Morgan’s Eating the Big Fish. And they all basically said the same thing: don’t do what everybody else was doing. So, in 2003, when he joined Mojo, everyone was doing TV, which meant it became a victim of these nascent anti-establishment beliefs.

As a result of the growing animosity towards traditional TV advertising (he points to a comment from the editor of Contagious magazine, a bible of cutting edge creative advertising, who said that crowing about being at the top of the Gunn Report, a ranking system that awarded the most successful TV and print campaigns, was like crowing about being the best in the world at making fax machines), he says he developed a fairly radical point of view. He was involved with the Mackenzie bread launch, which completely eschewed TV and relied on print, outdoor and, with its brown paper bag, instore appeal. And it ended up being one of the most successful FMCG launches in New Zealand history, he says, vindicating the belief that you actually didn’t need to use TV for a launch.

But he admits it was partly an attempt to see if it could actually be done. And it wasn’t until he ended up working in the creative department at Lowe when he realised how difficult the job of persuasively communicating a message to the public is and how powerful the medium of TV can be when you need to portray emotion and tell stories, as Lowe’s Youtube Video“>Swim for Life campaign that Hurman wrote in 2007 shows.

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But while there had been plenty of anti-TV sentiment, the belief it was dying seemed to be a misconception. Research from the UK showed that there was slightly more TV viewing now than there was ten years before that (of course, that viewing has been split over more channels), the price to advertise on TV had come down considerably and, as a medium, campaigns that didn’t use TV were not as effective. So, despite the myths, he says mass marketing—and mass media certainly isn’t dead. It’s just slightly different.

Hurman says the industry shouldn’t be interested in how TV advertising can be effective, because it has always been effective. The future is about how TV can be made more effective by using more untraditional media to engage and interest consumers.

He points to the V Rocket Man campaign, which was shown by Colmar Brunton’s tracking to be the most distinctive and enjoyable TV ad they’d ever measured in New Zealand. In the lead-up to the TVC the mystery that surrounded the Rocket Man actually improved the effectiveness of the TVC and had a huge sales impact. And while this kind of integrated campaign obviously takes much more strategic nous, and is much more complicated than the approach in the 1960s when you could reach 50 percent of the population with one ad on one channel, Hurman says creating interest is paramount.

While most evangelists and extremists are often rightfully ignored, he thinks it’s important to have radicals espousing alternative views, because without that pressure, nothing would change. And, as Leo Burnett once said: “When you reach for the stars, you may not quite get them, but you won’t come up with a handful of mud, either.”

  • We’ll bring you a run down of the presentations from Jason Paris, chief executive of MediaWorks, and Mike Hutcheson, next week.

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