An Advertising Tide Probably Won't Raise All Of The Boats

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There has been a lot of talk online about the end of advertising lately.

Whether it’s a new book on social media, some pundit pushing for social business or someone who is very excited that Instagram now affords their consumers the right to shoot 15 seconds of video along with their filter-tinged pictures, everyone is screaming that advertising – as we have known it to date – is dead (and/or dying). You can’t throw a marketer down a flight of stairs without hearing the words "big data" tumble out of their mouths and smart, smart people like Jeremiah Owyang (Altimeter Group) is banking on newer business spaces like the collaborative economy, while Jay Baer is pushing for something he calls, Youtility (which he defines as smart marketing that is created by helping consumers and not just hyping at them). It’s not a stretch to know that I fully (and categorically) back a lot of this thinking (see my latest book, CTRL ALT Delete for more on that).

But, there’s this thing…

As much as I can’t stand brands that are chasing likes on Facebook for the sake of chasing likes, or the ones who are doing nothing but shilling on Twitter, it’s hard to argue with the effect that it is having. Yes, these channels are gateways that allow brands to have these amazing direct relationships with consumers where they can be helpful, provide levels of utility and create levels of engagement like never before, but still there have been many instances when the numbers don’t lie. It turns out that chasing likes, shilling on Twitter and more have helped these brands increase their followers by impressive leaps and bounds, and that all of that pushing of products and services has created a level of activity that the brands are happy with. Crazy, right?

Maybe we don’t blame the brands?

It’s easy to sit here – as a marketing pundit – and take jabs at brands that are using social media as a megaphone to generate nothing more than free, cheap and easy impressions. It’s kind of like owning a guitar and insisting that there is nothing more to be played on it but crude power chords. There are dynamics and intricacies at play here that could engender the brand in a completely new and fascinating way, and yet they’re still doing whatever they used to do in traditional media by simply copying and pasting that model into these very different platforms and channels. Think about it this way: what if that’s what consumers know, want and expect? Sure there may be a segment that knows and understands how much more marketing and advertising could do because of these new tools, but what if they either don’t care or are simply used to (and accept) the advertising as they have seen it to date? Ask people if they like marketing and advertising. What do you think that they will say? Over the history of marketing, I’m going to guess (because I have no actual research to back this up) that when asked, the vast majority don’t like marketing and advertising and simply "deal with it" as a part of life (like death and taxes). If that’s the expectation – and it’s an understandable one because of the deluge of marketing messages that marketers place everywhere and anywhere – perhaps our own desire to evolve the medium is simply that – our own desire.

Advertising doesn’t work.

We like to say that advertising doesn’t work, but what do we really know? What if advertising works just fine, but the challenge is that there is simply too many choices (and a lot of bad advertising)? Not exactly rocket science, but we many of the new(er) media folks like getting their knickers in a knot when they see brands doing the selling game on social media instead of the long term value and relationship play. An advertising tide probably won’t raise all the boats, but it will for some (if not many).

We advertise to sell stuff.

Lest we forget. This is the reason that we are in business. Yes, we are here to add value. Yes, we are here to build brands. Yes, we are here to get excited. Yes, we are here to get people passionate about the things that we do. But… if they don’t buy, none of that matters. Many brands have (and only require) one imperative: create some kind of distraction/disruption in a consumer’s patterns to let them know that the brand, product and/or service exists. It’s a game of inches in a very crowded marketplace and, sometimes, the best way to do it isn’t by trying to be everyone’s best friend over the long haul, but to simply get in front of those eyeballs, let them know that you exist, make an offer and them get out of their way so that they can get back to the more important things in their lives.

Sometimes to sell, brands have to push. We may not like it, but there are sometimes no other way to get a very distracted person’s attention. Don’t believe me? Go play with some young kids for a bit.


  1. There are many forms of advertising including word of mouth which I believe to be the best vehicle for advertising. To achieve this as all may know a message needs to get across that resonates with that individual who will pass on the message, as such, I doubt advertising will ever die it might just take on a different form in the future. Lastly, if advertising is dead why is apple still advertising, they certainly don’t need to advertise to me but obviously need to grow their customer base and what better way than to advertise. Their announcements also are a form of effective advertising. LONG LIVE ADVERTISING !!!

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