Monday, February 06, 2012

When Marketing And Reputation Disconnect

Corporate spin-offs are complex so at first I wondered if Time Warner Cable had shed the core value for sustainability held by its former parent company.  But given its “go green” “going greener” and “think green” marketing campaigns, maybe it’s just that the marketing department exempts itself when it comes to hypocritically proliferating huge, stationary and archaic outdoor billboards in my adopted hometown and state.Time Warner cable going greener

There is a huge disconnect between the company’s use of outdoor billboards and the commitment in its community impact report where promises are made to “building operational foundation of policies and procedures that are environmentally conscious and can minimize our impact on natural resources.”

More than 80% of North Carolinians including nearly 90% of political Independents like me (half of all voters,) object to letting billboard companies cut down any more trees especially after the industry reneged last year on a compromise agreement made in the year 2000 with environmental interests, NCDOT and Federal Highway Administration that increased the then-125’ foot rectangular selective cutting zone permitted around billboards to a 250"’ triangular zone with no net loss of trees.

Now with the help of allies in the State legislature, the outdoor billboard industry rammed through approval that unbeknownst to many of those who voted for it will now permit outboard billboard companies to clear-cut the size of a Super Bowl football field in each direction along roadsides adjacent to each of the state’s more than 8,000 billboards, all of this over the objections of 80% of North Carolinians.

Billboard advertisers, such as Time Warner Cable, may see this as only a risk to the reputation of the billboard companies but marketing experts have long confirmed that the liabilities of using billboards accrue primarily to the reputations of brands that place messages on them.

Cable companies aren't immune just because they operate much like monopolies.  New research conducted a few months ago reveals that 56% of Americans try to buy from companies that do good things for the environment and that a disconnect between a brand and its actions triggers a negative reaction including conscious decisions not to purchase a particular product or service among 40% of consumers, twice the proportion who continue to buy regardless of the disconnect.

Cable companies such as Time Warner cannot afford to be flip.  They cannot afford to alienate their all ready-dwindling customer base. Deloitte’s sixth edition of its State of the Media Democracy released just last month confirms that cable companies are in the process of losing 35% of their subscribers to cord-cutting in favor of online streaming:

  • “9 percent of people have already cut the cord


  • 11 percent are considering doing so because they can watch almost all of their favorite shows online.


  • An additional 15 percent of respondents said that they will most likely watch movies, television programs, and videos from online digital sources (via download or streamed over the Internet) in the near future.”

Having watched how quickly tethered telephone infrastructure was left stranded by cell phones, I doubt cable executives are sleeping too soundly at night having lost or in the process of losing more than a third of subscribers during the brief existence of online streaming let alone the risk of losing another 40% just because their marketers are insensitive to their own corporate sustainability vows.

Unfortunately, far too few marketing executives in any sector are being held accountable for the alienation of potential and existing customers resulting from their use of anti-sustainability mediums such as outdoor billboards.  The time is long overdue for the implementation of metrics that hold marketers accountable for the “net” effect of marketing strategies.

This need for accountability also pertains to any community or state destination marketers who continue to use outdoor billboards even when donated, hoping to reach the 1 or 2 people out of every 10 who may use them, while alienating the 8 of 10 they offend.  The same is true of all non-profits.  they must realize that, get there using billboards, they are alienating many times more potential donors or attendees than they are reaching.

Ignoring these facts is not called marketing.  It is called stupid.

Dating back to pioneers from the era of the real “Mad Men,” and marketing giants (including advertising) such as David Ogilvy and Howard Gossage have discouraged use of outdoor billboards and cited their detrimental effects.

This is also not about politics.  Even the “standard-bearer for American conservatism”, the late William F. Buckley, wrote in an article entitled The Politics of Beauty that “billboards are acts of aggression, against which the public is entitled, as a matter of privacy, to be protected…the big name libertarian theorists should go to work demolishing the billboarders’ abuse of the argument of private property.”

If you are a mayor or city manager or governor or secretary or DMO chair of a community or state and your destination marketing organization still uses outdoor billboards you need to give them a “Gibbs slap” up the back of the head.

1 comment:

Maia Dobson said...

I see nothing wrong with green advertising for as long as they serve their purpose. My job at the New York advertising agencies enables me to study the benefit of using green advertising campaigns and how customers prefer to support them. It's surely going to pay off.