NEW YORK — Wal-Mart TV could become the most powerful fashion marketing medium in America.
In a world where screen-based media is becoming ever more important and TV is the best means with which to spark the emotional circuits of consumers, fashion marketers must adapt rapidly or else get lost in the shuffle. That’s according to Kevin Roberts, chief executive officer worldwide of ad agency Saatchi & Saatchi, whose upcoming book, “Sisomo: The Future on Screen,” examines how marketers can entice people by conveying emotion-infused stories on various screen-based media via sight, sound and motion — or “sisomo” — a word coined by the author.
The fashion business, marked by the dominance of magazine advertising and dearth of TV spots, has its work cut out for it in such a world. The good news may come in the form of Roberts’ belief that the mind-set of shoppers makes stores the optimal setting for marketing with sisomo. And he looks for the mass chains to be in the forefront, rather than the luxury boutiques.
“People go into stores with the intent of being entertained, engaged and stimulated,” Roberts said in an interview. “It’s an ‘I’m available, attract me’ mind-set. It’s also a moment of dedicated time.” The amount of time people will devote to taking in sight, sound and motion on screens will vary by the age of the viewers, Roberts predicted. “It might be 10 seconds for a kid at HMV or Virgin and 35 seconds for a fashion shopper at Louis Vuitton,” he said.
Target, J.C. Penney, H&M, and Zara are among those Roberts expects to pioneer screen-based marketing in their stores. “Luxury players will be pushed to step up to the plate,” he projected.
Nonetheless, when asked to identify the biggest missed opportunity in the world of sisomo, the Saatchi & Saatchi ceo was quick to point to Wal-Mart TV. “It’s the biggest, most underdeveloped medium in America,” he said of a system he characterizes in “Sisomo” as the fifth-largest TV network in the country, one that reaches 113 million viewers every four weeks. “They put the screens in the wrong places, you can’t hear them, they’re not interactive,” he said in the interview.
In the U.S., home to more than 290 million people, TVs are on for an average of about six hours a day per household, estimated Robert Thompson, trustee professor for TV and popular culture at Syracuse University. And about 40 percent of Americans, or 116 million people, “always watch television while eating dinner,” Roberts points out in “Sisomo,” citing data from the National Institute of Media and the Family.
Television’s omnipresence, its command of people’s time, and what Roberts describes in “Sisomo” as its open-heartedness underpin the medium’s marketing power, said the author, whose new book is scheduled to be published by powerHouse Books in January. Virtually all Americans watch TV, and they spend roughly half their leisure time in front of those screens, engaged by a medium they view as a “family member.”
“It’s very intimate, warm,” Roberts offered in the interview, challenging the traditional notion of TV as a cool medium, one whose programs are watched in a mostly passive manner. Taking a broader view of the TV experience, Roberts observed, “You can watch it alone and not be embarrassed. It’s like eating a box of chocolates by yourself.”
The key to connecting with consumers through sisomo, the author-marketing executive emphasized, is a “big transforming idea.”
“We must not get carried away with all that’s happening with technology now,” he advised. “[Marketers] must be focused on [establishing] emotional connections through the ideas.”
In fact, Roberts contends in “Sisomo,” “The right side of the brain is finding new respectability in the 21st century. Creativity, empathy, inspiration and emotional context have new value as our analytical skills struggle to cope with the information deluge.”
Beyond the U.S., where TV captures about $65 billion in annual ad spending, Roberts believes TV reigns supreme in such countries as China, Russia, India and Brazil, part of the developing world in which 2.5 billion of the world’s roughly 6 billion people already have televisions. Marketers in China, the world’s fifth-largest advertising market, are already devoting 75 percent of their ad spending to television, the author writes.
With screen-based media now rapidly evolving and converging, marketing observers foresee the rise of different kinds of ad plays: new time formats for commercials; entire shows developed to accommodate product placements, and the return of Fifties-style sponsorships of various programs — all of which would create new openings for fashion players, among others.
Commercials may range from spots as brief as 10 seconds to more expansive placements of between three and five minutes, spurred by the burgeoning popularity of on-demand TV programs, which are giving viewers a greater sense of control. Further, soon-to-bow technology may breed a desire for that control as it enables the transfer of digital video recording content from devices like TiVo to video iPods, mobile phones and portable video game units, observers projected. Such options, expected to become available in the first quarter of 2006, will create a consumer who “will increasingly expect what they want, when they want, where they want it,” trend forecaster Irma Zandl said in a Nov. 22 e-mail detailing developments she sees influencing consumer culture in the year ahead.
While Roberts and others don’t expect the 30-second TV commercial to disappear anytime soon, Roberts does foresee its effectiveness ebbing as people continue to use screen-based media in new ways, say, taking in a 60-second mobisode of a longer TV show, on a mobile phone. From January through September, network, spot, cable and syndicated TV took in a combined $79.9 million in ad spending from marketers of apparel, swimwear, and outerwear, a 23 percent increase over the $64.7 million spent a year earlier, according to Taylor Nelson Sofres Media Intelligence/CMR.
Of course, virtually anyone could fall under the sway of sight, sound and motion on screens, but Roberts pegged Baby Boomers as the group most likely to be lured by marketers leveraging the phenomenon — contrary to the notion the embrace of such experiences is mostly a teen scene. “Baby Boomers are going to be sisomoed happily,” Roberts said of the first generation to grow up with TV. “They are the fastest-growing [group of] mobile phone users and female Internet users, and they are blogging and e-mailing to keep in touch with relatives,” he continued. “The screen will become a vital part of aging Boomer lives.”
It will take about five years for a critical mass of people to adapt to today’s emerging media — including a proliferation of screens that prompt people to respond as they would to other people — the amount of time Roberts thinks it will take before there’s a sisomo revolution. “The truth is, we often don’t bother to distinguish between what is physically in front of us and what is mediated,” he writes. “Our emotional responses are the same.”
“We’re seeing technological generations move ahead twice as fast as in the past, when it comes to adopting new technologies,” Roberts related in the interview. “I put ‘Sisomo’ out in paperback because people like a magazine; I wanted it to look more like that. But [its content] will probably be out of date in two years.”
TEN TV SISOMO-MENTS
1936: First daily TV broadcast is aired by the BBC.
1941: First TV commercial is aired, for Bulova clocks, during a Brooklyn Dodgers/Philadelphia Phillies baseball broadcast.
1950: Procter & Gamble sponsors the first TV soap opera, “The First Hundred Years.”
1951: First color telecast is offered in U.S.
1972: First home-use VCR is launched.
1975: First music video, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” is created by Queen.
1994: 95 million people watch the Los Angeles police chase O.J. Simpson, who took to the freeway in a white Ford Bronco, in real time.
1997: The DVD format is launched.
2003: First year people rent more DVDs than videotapes.
2005: Bob Geldof’s Live 8 concert is broadcast in 140 countries.
“America runs on Bulova time,” proclaimed the first TV commercial, a 20-second spot purchased for $9 in 1941 by the clockmaker.
Source: Sisomo: The Future on Screen (powerHouse Books: January 2006)