BRANDS HAVE JUMPED THE SHARK

It’s been 10 days since I last posted. I’m terribly hyper-aware of this short-coming, and will not repeat it. To say that I was busy and traveling doesn’t quite cut it, anyway. We are all busy, and we all travel. As Henry David Thoreau quipped, we are all tools of our tools. Anyway, transcendentalism is not the subject of this post.

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Last time, I headlined a post “McDonald’s Goes Out of Business,” because the NA prexy said that the burger behemoth was in the bsuiness of following trends. To me, that meant that Mickey D was in the business of going out of business.

I’m still not at my point. The point is this: that headline got me a lot of emails, of folks asking me where I had heard or read that McDonald’s was going out of business. The idea that the third or fourth largest advertiser, and the proud banner-holder of branding gone ballistic, could go out of business was…plausible. The notion had a chance. Folks thought that it could be true.

Wow. What a statement about the emasculating strength of sonme global brands. Is it an affirmation of the death of brands? Has branding “jumped the shark?” I’m reminded of a passage from my book using this exact phrase:

“Not many are familiar with the phrase jumping the shark. It has yet to make it into the Oxford English Dictionary. But it’s certain to make its mark soon as it speeds through the Internet to the tipping point where the OED will take notice. Case in point: it won’t be long before tipping point is added to the OED, after the huge popularity of Malcolm Gladwell’s book and the Internet buzz that comes from it. In fact,the expansion ofthe World Wide Web has contributed to the more than ten thousand new words and phrases added to the OED. Similarly, jumping the shark has its roots in the Internet, with an eponymous Web site dedicated to this weird and catchy saying.

The site defines it as “a moment, a defining moment when you know that your favorite television program has reached its peak. That instant that you know from now on . . . it’s all downhill. Some call it the climax. We call it jumping the shark. From that moment on,the program will simply never be the same.”

The best example of this moment, and the reason the term was invented in the first place, comes to us from the television program Happy Days. Although pop culture pundits can point to many moments during the sitcom’s run that could be construed as the climax of the series, the jumping the shark moment came when Fonzie – the uber-cool greaser in a leather jacket played by Henry Winkler – waterskied off of a ramp actually to jump a shark (never mind that Happy Days was based in Milwaukee).

Some viewers knew that from that absurd moment on, the show was going nowhere but downhill and would simply never be the same again.

Marketing as we know it jumped the shark in 2004. Most marketers didn’t even notice. Indeed, a jumping the shark moment doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s obvious ,or that the moment will have immediate repercussions. In fact, Happy Days aired for many more years after Fonzie put a life preserver over his black leather jacket and flew over a Great White.

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Indeed, jumping the shark is a moment perceptible to few, and it may take years if not decades before the occasion is recognized by the rest of us. But for those who do see it immediately, the moment can signal a profound revolution.

So how did marketing jump the shark in 2004? To answer this question, I need to posit two paradigm shifts in the marketing industry, which have been alluded to often throughout this book:

• Mass media no longer serves – nor holds – the interest of the enlightened and highly empowered consumer.
• The industry paradigm of the propagation and sustain- ability of “brand” and “brand essence” is over.

Wait a minute: Corporate obsession with the brand is passé? Mass media like television, radio, and magazines are soon to be relics of the past? Well, yes . . . and no.

The corporate blind drive for branding, and marketing’s dependence on mass media, won’t disappear immediately, but the existing paradigms are certain to be permanently altered if not totally jettisoned in the near future. Our view of marketing will never be the same again. The sharks have been jumped.”

Of course, I go on to write in the book how the sharks have been jumped. But now I’m at my point. When a brand like McDonald’s is perceived by the so-called “influencers” as able to go away at a moment’s notice, you really have a problem on your hands. Perhaps when CEO Larry Light declared that “mass marketing is a mass mistake,” he was already too late to save the sinking ship.

One comment

  1. c’mon…you have to give kudos to Bill Simmons’ e-column on ESPN.com for the proliferation of the “jump the shark” term.
    the term wasn’t the brainchild of some planner decked out in his best jedi outfit…it was from a jock writer who also happens to be addicted to pop culture.
    he started using that phrase long before the advertising or corporate world ever took notice…
    like i said…just give props where props are due…

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