When there were only three television channels, a select group of people at a select group of advertising agencies got paid top dollar to create commercials for big brands. As the number of channels grew, so did the number of available commercial breaks to create ads for. Markets did what markets do and a rush of people and new companies sprung up to meet the fresh demand. With increased quantity comes changes in quality, some for better and some for worse. This phenomenon isn’t exclusive to TV ads either, we see it play out across all sorts of industries when times change. Understanding what works as an industry faces saturation (and potentially decline) is well worth exploring.
Julie Rieger, Chief Data Strategist and Head of Media for 20th Century Fox Film sees the current saturation in the movie promotion industry with a unique perspective. She focuses on how the surplus in demand actually creates a shortage of talent. When a market grows and demands steps up, prices drop. That doesn’t necessarily lead to terrible products or services, in fact, often times the average product or service improves. What does not grow at the same rate is the available talent pool. She can be charged with promoting a movie across TV, social media, radio, etc., but she knows what really moves the needle is the right people with the right mindsets doing above average work.
Massive markets have a surplus of mediocrity. This is as true for TV ads as it is for insurance agents. Rieger’s point is that for those that are up for the challenge, the breadth of the market offers the opportunity to differentiate from average. When there were only three channels, the average was a very high and very specifically defined standard. Jump to present day and the rules and conditions have changed. There’s a reason her job titles include data and media. There are new tools if we want our work to land above the average. She now regularly rolls out campaigns across multiple mediums requiring multiple best in class insights to deliver the results they’re after.
We should step back and think about what average looks like in our own jobs. Luckily, most of us aren’t charged with helping break a summer blockbuster. We can start our own analysis by asking what the minimum table stakes are for the average professional in our field. From there, our job becomes not just to meet the standard, but to figure out how to consistently land above it. We don’t need a crystal ball to do so – just a willingness to really take a look around.
Industry saturation usually means the market has increased the threshold for crappiness. To survive for the long term, we have to recognize that good enough today won’t be good enough tomorrow. Our competition is going to keep making better crap so we had better not be standing still. If the market is going to demand more and more for less and less, it’s our job to stay one step ahead. The shortage isn’t in the work even if it seems to be in the profits, the real scarcity is always in the quality.
If we want to exceed the average, we have to start by understanding it.