Kirk Cheyfitz – Getting to The Last 3 Feet

Kirk Cheyfitz, Co-CEO + Chief Storyteller, Story Worldwide

The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson, writing about network TV, the icon of traditional media, cited Nielsen’s numbers recently to sum up media consumption’s recent past:

“The networks’ share of primetime TV audience has declined from 45% in 1985 to 25% in 2009. Basic cable ate the networks’…audience, and now it’s technology’s turn to gobble up what’s left…Television technologies are dragging us away from live television, to a world of smaller screens, shifting ‘windows,’ and no more ads.”

All added emphasis above is mine. As my agency, Story, has said for a decade, media is in the post-advertising age—the age when the audience is no longer captive. The messages the audience now sees and hears are the ones it chooses to see and hear and. increasingly, they consume their media on a range of digital, mobile devices. Importantly, the messages that find the largest, most receptive audiences are the ones the audience itself amplifies through social sharing. These are the trends shaping advertising’s future.

Advertising in 2020 will look much more like all other media and much less like traditional ads. The bright lines that used to divide kinds of media—separating books, movies and TV shows from ads—blurred long ago. By 2020, they are gone.

A movie may come from Warner Brothers, Coca-Cola or a kid down the street; a book may be published by Random House, Zappos or the 16-year-old girl who wrote it; news may come from CNN, a pharma company’s Facebook page or a Syrian revolutionary on Twitter. The intent of the content may be solely to inform, as the New York Times asserts, or it may be to inform, entertain and then sell something, as the Red Bulletin or Endless Vacation magazine and app do. None of that matters. What matters is whether the content matters to the audience.

So by 2020, The Atlantic’s “no more ads” will be mostly right. Instead of ads as we know them, advertising will be brand stories—fairy stories, news stories, epic stories, histories, romances and so on. These stories must be so entertaining, informative, engaging and valuable to the audience that people actually seek them out, choosing to see and hear them. Importantly, these stories also must do three critical things at once:

  • Narrate a brand’s core proposition;
  • Tap into the deep interests of the brand’s audiences and, thus, the reasons the brand should be important to people; and
  • Work to accomplish the brand’s business goals.

NOTE TO THE INCAUTIOUS READER WITH A BACKGROUND IN TRADITIONAL ADVERTISING: If you wish to mislead yourself that I am talking about disguised ads or old PR crap that serves the interests of a brand and not the personal interest of a media consumer, then be misled. But when I say stories, I actually mean stories. They will take many forms—text, image, film, games, utilities and more—but they all will be part of a compelling, joined-up brand story that powerfully narrates the relationship of brand to audience and sustains that relationship over years.

By 2020, these brand stories must be crafted to be contagious and delivered digitally in forms and formats that make them very easy to share. This will be dictated by the economics of ROMI, driven by social multiplier effects. Keeping in mind the work done by economists on social multipliers, what I mean here is relatively simple and backed a growing body of research.

Forrester, for example, has found that a brand’s Facebook fans are 2 to 4 times more likely to recommend the brand to others. Nielsen, as I discussed in a piece for, finds that a brand message passed along on social media is roughly two times more likely to be trusted than a brand message delivered in a TV ad or other traditional media. Put these factors together and it becomes clear that, addressing audiences of similar sizes, a brand message contagiously shared on Facebook will initially create 4 to 8 times as many effective (i.e., trusted or listened to) impressions as an effective TV ad.

That 400% to 800% lift is just the tip of the social-multiplier-math iceberg. When other factors are calculated—CPMs, production costs, duration and frequency of messaging, the average number of connections of fans on a social network, etc.—the advantage of the social multiplier effect becomes literally astronomical.

Crucially, the central element in this math remains engagement, which is a product publishing valuable brand content everyday to maintain and grow a social community and to stimulate that community to pass along the brand’s contagious stories. Such content sharing by continuously engaged fans is what secures millions of trusted impressions at a vanishingly tiny incremental cost to the brand.

In the adland of 2020, the immense advantage of social multipliers comes together with the inevitable realization of “the Internet of things”—the concept of enabling all kinds of objects to report their whereabouts and status to the Internet. Driven by the increasing dominance of mobile devices, the next frontier in advertising will be using digital to give the real world web-style functionality with technologies such as near field communications (NFC), visual recognition (VR) and augmented reality (AR).

The ultimate outcome will be the ability to market the last three feet—to be there as the consumer’s hand is reaching toward the shelf—and to recognize her or his choices and needs in order to deliver critical information from the brand story precisely at the point of decision.

With this step, advertising will finally deliver the end-to-end solution that CMOs have only dreamed about before now. From awareness to decision, from source to shelf, brands will be surrounded and supported by a virtual halo of content that provides continual value to audiences. Delivery of the content will bridge virtual and actual experiences, extending from screens of all sizes to high-touch events and retail shelves. Digital will extend from transforming media to also enhancing physical space.

Provided the brand story is consistently and compellingly told in ways that meet the audience’s rational and emotional needs, the value to both audience and brand of this aggregated, on-demand stream of communications is what advertising should be and must be in 2020 and beyond.