Right Back Where We Started From: 2003, the Beginning of the End of Interruptive Marketing
Right Back Where We Started From: 2003, the Beginning of the End of Interruptive Marketing

Let's go back to the fall of 2003. October 29, to be exact.

To remind you of that time:

  • The first “Pirates of the Caribbean” had just demolished the box office
  • Our troops were in Iraq on the hunt for Saddam Hussein
  • Countless hours were being spent playing Snake on Nokia phones
  • 50 Cent was the most popular recording artist in the world, whose album you likely downloaded on LimeWire

And also to give reference:

  • Facebook had 0 daily active users
  • Apple had just released its 3rd generation iPod and launched the iTunes Store; 3+ years from the release of the iPhone
  • Amazon had just started to move beyond selling books, still 18 months from launching Amazon Prime
  • Netflix had 1 million subscribers to its DVD rental business
  • Google was a year away from an IPO and 3 years from being included in the Oxford English Dictionary as a verb

What none of us fully realized then was ultimately the beginning of the decline of the effectiveness of interruptive advertising. The consumers were gaining control of their time.

Yes, many of the technology leaders of today were in their infancy, but there were other technologies at play, other content creators captivating audiences and communities being formed offline. These behavior shifts would shape how many of the companies we interact with today progressed in their products and services over the years.

So back to October 29, 2003. It was a Wednesday. I was a junior in high school at the time and a group of 10 of my friends gathered that evening at one of our friend's houses. We had been waiting for this night for over a month. We turned on the television at 9:37 PM after everyone had arrived. 44 minutes later at 10:21 PM we had fallen off our seats with what we had just seen. We will get to the content in a minute, but what had just taken place should have made every brand and media company fall off their seat, too.

We didn't care that the show started at 9 PM ET. We didn't care that it was scheduled for 60 minutes. This was our time and we were busy teenagers. As you know, this was all made possible by the ease of use of a product that hit the market on March 31, 1999, Tivo. By October 2003 Tivo had ~1 million subscribers and for anyone that was fortunate to own one or have a friend with one at that time, this technology changed what we watched, when we watched and how we watched.

  • This unlocked the ease of access of content - we could now record shows and store ones that we either would not have historically given a shot or ones we knew we would miss because of scheduled time
  • This allowed us to watch any of those shows whenever we wanted to - day or night, weekend or weekday
  • This allowed for us to begin binging - watching a whole season we had stored all in a row

As we all know today, once we start accepting a technology or a service and its ease of use, we then expect it everywhere and to be employed by every brand. Tivo didn't lay the framework for mobile and ability to access content anywhere (that came with the iPhone and cell providers years later), but it changed the way we thought about how we wanted to spend our time and gave us the control.

I clearly remember thinking back a couple years later of how big of a deal this was - if given a choice, nobody really wanted to watch commercials anymore. How would brands play in this world? In 2006, I was fully convinced that clickable product placement within shows through Tivo or online video was the future. This was the only way they could be a part of the show and create sales opportunities. I was sorely wrong.

So once again, let’s go back to October 29, 2003. Hold your laugh for a moment. The show that had gathered 10+ kids together on a school night and the show was creating a cultural phenomenon across the country was called “The O.C.” (a teenage mini-soap opera taking place in Orange County). We were probably acutely aware of the ridiculousness of the plot at the time, but we were unashamed. This content was so entertaining to us that it brought us together - it was filling a content void that probably hadn't been filled since “Beverly Hills 90210.” The content plus the technology had allowed communities to be formed and create advocacy and loyalty to this program.

Brands need to realize this is now the future. Brand loyalty is still being served through great products, great experiences and great loyalty programs. But we also need to realize products and services are being commoditized daily. Competing products have identical features and benefits, so what’s stopping audiences from switching after a price change or a one-time poor experience? Where else can brands add value?

Content. Compelling, entertaining and informative content. Content that is based on a narrative a brand is trying to own and storytelling that fills a whitespace in the marketplace. Audiences will do everything in their power to skip your ad, but they will make time for brands that add value to their life. They will come together and form communities around your narrative. You do not need to create the next “O.C.,” but you need to be thoughtful about how your brand is creating value for the audiences you care about most. At its core, storytelling is the root of influence and brands need to accept their role into today's changed landscape. Those who adapt will gain time with audiences and those who stand still will be ignored by teenagers streaming hours of video of their favorite eSports personality on Twitch instead.

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