Specialized and targeted audiences are great, but what about those Fortune 500 advertisers that still wish to reach a truly LARGE audience?

I threw down the gauntlet at my R&D team after a conversation with the CMO of a Fortune 500 company who said to me, "There are no truly mass audience vehicles left."

The challenge was this: Develop a new advertising vehicle that delivers a true mass audience! The following are the lessons they learned about advertisers' reaching big audiences.

Lesson 1: Today's marketers are really not in love with their choices

In talking with the brand managers and CMOs of the Fortune 500 companies, the underlying tone they heard was fear and frustration. The CMOs know that their advertising dollars are being wasted, but they don't have any real alternatives. They resent it, and they're finally getting vocal about it.

Johnson & Johnson declined to participate in this year's Network TV upfront market, and companies such as Toyota Motor, Wal-Mart, Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, and Home Depot have committed $50 million to create their own advertising auction site with the help of eBay.

"We're mad as hell and we're not going to take it anymore!" really sums up the attitude of today's marketers toward their choices in mass audience ad vehicles.

Lesson 2: The mass audience is not what it used to be

In 1983, the final episode of "M*A*S*H" was watched in 50.15 million homes. Delivering an audience of that magnitude has become a rare event. The Super Bowl and the Oscars come close, but other than these yearly events television audiences just aren't what they used to be—and advertisers know it.

Many in the media question the actual audience numbers that billions of dollars of television ad spending is based on. Nielsen Media Research (the people who create the Nielsen Ratings) uses a sampling size of only 5,000 homes to determine what over 100 million homes are watching. Do those numbers seem suspect to you?

The television audiences that remain are much different from the audiences of yesteryear. We watch television today with the remote in our hand ready to channel surf the minute commercials come on the screen. "I know the TV audience is not watching my thirty (-second spot), but what other choice do I have?" asked one brand manager.

Lesson 3: Advertising agencies are not helping

"You will meet resistance from the ad agencies," the president of a large marketing firm warned us. He was right. Our R&D team thought (naively in retrospect) that advertising agencies would be a great resource in helping to develop a new mass advertising vehicle. Wrong!

Advertising agencies love to sell themselves as hip, cutting edge, bold, and adventurous. Unfortunately for their clients, that applies to the messages and "creative" they produce, but not the ad vehicles they choose. We talked to many of the large advertising firms, with the same response coming from most of them: "We're not interested in developing any new ad vehicles." I still wonder whether these ad firms' clients know that these expensive firms have this aversion to expanding the advertising media universe.

In fairness to the advertising community, their fear of new ad vehicles is understandable. If they try something new and it doesn't work, they have to answer for it.

Our greatest asset in developing our new advertising vehicle was the Fortune 500 marketers themselves.

Lesson 4: What advertisers really want

Fortune 500 companies are not just looking for mass audiences in the new world of advertising. They also want measurement and verification. They want verification that their message is reaching a large audience and they want to measure how effective their message is in actually selling the product or service. They also love the combination of audio and video that television and the internet provides.

After thousands of hours of research and development, our team put together its final "must-have" list of features for a new advertising vehicle:

  1. Large audience (more than ten million)

  2. Video and audio presentation

  3. Repeatable viewings (the audience must be able to play the ad over again)

  4. Pass-along value (like magazines and newspaper, the media can be handed to friends so they can look at it)

  5. Measurable results (can the advertiser measure how effective their ad was?)

  6. Verified audience (proof that the ad was actually seen by the audience)

  7. Targeted audience (can we reach red-headed women over the age of 40?)

The advertising vehicle that we created is called the City Of The Stars DVD Movie Premiere Program. It's being delivered to a targeted audience of over 40 million people. Currently, we are working with several Fortune 500 brand managers who like the idea of an ad vehicle that was developed with the advertiser in mind instead of being an afterthought.

It's a new world of advertising and marketing vehicles out there. Let's all jump in and test the waters and find out what works!

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Steve Frost (sfrost@cityofthestars.com) is president of Carrington International, LLC, which developed the City Of The Stars DVD Movie Premiere Program.