by: Jonathan Salem Baskin

To: Bob Chimbel, DDB Entertainment
cc: All Innovative Ad Execs Throughout the Cosmos

Congratulations on winning the Blockbuster account, and on using it as the prompt to pull together all of your far-flung entertainment-related units into a single shop-within-Omnicom in Dallas.  

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I understand that your client's CEO plans to transform the Blockbuster brand "into an entertainment provider" just like Apple did for its business. He has been working to evolve from a video-rental chain to a full-service media delivery company, according to the article I read in Advertising Age.

Somebody needs to tell you that the strategy is doomed. Even if it weren't, you're not the right guys to deliver it.

Sorry. I mean no insult to your skills. It's just that the mandate reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of what's going on the marketplace, and it promises to misapply your marketing skills to challenges that not even the most brilliant, innovative marketers could overcome.

I see three primary issues:

  1. First, the world needs another media delivery company like it needs a hole in the head. I don't care if the brand names are originally analog (Time/Warner, Wall Street Journal) or digital inventions (name the failed portal of your choice), the online distribution business is more a wireless-and-pipes play than anything else. What could Blockbuster possibly bring to this marketplace that Comcast, Amazon, YouTube, or any number of other entrants don't already offer (or, worse, have tried and discarded)?
  2. That's because, second, Blockbuster is a store, not a brand name, and certainly not an entertainment provider. To even suggest otherwise is to reveal a misplaced belief in the (your) ability to overcome reality, and convince people of things that are simply not true. There's no Blockbuster without the geophysical stores and physical merchandise. That's why the comparisons to Apple are incorrect: Apple sells hardware, and wraps an enabling service around it. In fact, it created a sustainable ecosystem where none existed, in order to sell its gizmos. So the right corollary for Blockbuster would be to invent new reasons for consumers to visit its stores. DVDs are Blockbuster's iPods, and once people don't need to fondle them any longer, I don't see what the company puts into its stores instead. Do you? Is that part of your remit?
  3. Finally, the really bad news for you and your fellow marketers is probably a hidden, underutilized strength: Blockbuster is a habit or routine more than a choice. Nobody ever attached any meaning to it beyond perhaps, on the good side, an appreciation of its geographic convenience and, on the negatives, the potential to interact with surly or clueless employees (not to mention the reasonable probability that the title you wanted to rent is already checked out). Consumers used to stop by Blockbuster to "find something to watch" much like they'd pull up to a service station to "get some gas for the car." There's absolutely nothing wrong with that -- like I said, I believe that such routines are immensely powerful -- but it's certainly not entertaining.

Any stock analyst with a critical bone left in his or her body should be writing as much, but since we've been hearing this "entertainment brand" nonsense since, well, I was with the company in the mid 1990s, it should be old to someone other than me by now.

So any Blockbuster transformation would require a substantive change in the very premise of its business; it would have to be something far more meaningful than marketing, and a lot more inventive than anything we've ever heard before from the company. I have no idea what it might be, but I'm thinking things like giving away Blu-Ray players to Blockbuster members, or building studios for UGC in every store. 

The plans would have to originate in operations, and create a set of proprietary, value-add services only available in-store. Exclusive content from the studios, maybe events. Some reverse-logic distribution arrangement that was supported with actions that truly redefined why people needed to visit the stores. Big, structural, business-changing actions.

I suspect that making the brand more about entertainment is just not one of them. And this news should serve as a cautionary tale to other capable, well-intentioned, innovative marketers who might presume to fix client problems that they just not able to fix.

Original Post: http://dimbulb.typepad.com/my_weblog/2009/03/memo-to-blockbusters-agency.html

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