'Say Hello, Wave Goodbye'

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The Lincoln Continental: Back again. And again.
The Lincoln Continental: Back again. And again.

Watching Lincoln Motor Co.'s rebrand film on a smartphone for the umpteenth time raises many questions about the thinking -- or lack thereof -- behind content distribution.

When pop sensation Soft Cell released this sweeping and majestic portrayal of a collapsed relationship in 1982, Campaign Magazine, in its second iteration, was just a teenager, and the Lincoln Motor Co. was suffering badly after the fuel crises of the mid-1970s.

I say this because the welcome arrival of Campaign to North American shores got me thinking about launches, re-launches, re-imaginings and other words beginning with "re." And there were a lot of those in use around last year’s rebranding of Lincoln. Say hello. Or rather, say "Hello, Again."

But isn’t this old news? Well, it is and it isn’t. Sadly, as many celebrities are finding, (courtesy of some digitally skilled but emotionally backward folk at 4chan), there is no such thing as old news anymore.

I have recently been in a hurry to catch up on "The Walking Dead." I was fairly behind (a couple of seasons, maybe), but — in the golden age of TV – that’s nothing new. My binge was surely to be expected. And that’s where the "wave goodbye" started.

The original launch of "Hello, Again" had missed me. But thanks to a VOD deal with Time Warner Cable, I have now seen Lincoln’s rebrand film approximately 64 times in the last month.

Now, as a consumer, I’m arguably a prime suspect for Lincoln. That’s a shame, because – if I hear that music and voiceover one more time – my iPhone 5S, the device on which I watch most of my catch-up TV, is likely to need replacing with a 6. God help my TV if the film pops up again in the TWD season premiere on October 12th.

There is a point to what is fast becoming a rant. In fact, a number of points.

Before I start, I should apologize to Lincoln for making them my foil. They say "write what you experience," and for better or worse, Lincoln has been my most dominant recent experience.

My first point is that I thought we were beyond this. How does a technology and service that improves the viewing experience actually worsen the advertising experience that pays for it? Why are we letting that happen? And how many others are experiencing it? My TV behaviors are pretty basic, and the pre-season binge is an established phenomenon, so I will not be an isolated case. How we distribute our client’s content needs to be thought about with as much care as broadcasters use when distributing theirs. We can learn a lot from the networks. Some of them have gotten very good at it. Too often, we’re not good enough.

My second observation is that we need to think more carefully about the context of screened content consumption. Excessive frequency on my TV in my living room tends to engender "Seen it before, whatever." Excessive frequency on my smartphone is "Get the **** out of my personal space." My mobile is an extension of me in a way that my TV never will be. With my TV, there is distance between us. With my phone, there is none. And that goes triple when the content is in my newsfeeds. Re-targeters, please note.

As a brief aside, I was recently watching a piece of branded content on my laptop that originated in one of my newsfeeds, only to be simultaneously served a piece of advertising from the same brand that directed me to the same piece of content, in the same place I was watching it. Is this digital eating itself? Or was it just plain sloppy?

Which brings me to my final point. We should be looking at and planning for the cause and effects between all the interrelationships and interdependencies across a communications system, and how consumers and content flow through it. We should be learning and applying the discipline of Systems Thinking to our work. But with Lincoln, as with most brands (not least our own), the system could be better connected.

A .com finish to an ad is not a connection. These days, it feels more like a period. And if I’ve seen a brand film that many times – on phone, tablet and smart TV – I’d expect an invitation to see the rest of their system. Why don’t they know me better yet? We profess to know consumers intimately, but how often do we really allow ourselves the resources and time to fulfill the system’s potential? There’s an enormous wealth of interesting Lincoln content out there that has never found me.

Of course, in a funny sort of way, thanks to my VOD experience and rant, I now know that Lincoln’s story is genuinely iconic, fascinating and full of classic moments that make me slightly weak at the knees. So whether for a car or a washing powder, let’s build more and better communications systems that make other people feel that way, too.

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