Are Brands Confusing Advertising With Marketing?

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It turns out that the major advertising networks think that Yahoo made a mistake in the acquisition of Tumblr.

That’s the news you get when you read the Business Insider article, Marissa Mayer’s Biggest Problem With Tumblr, Summed Up In A Single Quote. Digital advertising people can’t figure out the social aspects of Tumblr or where to put all of those ads that their clients want to spread out to as many eyeballs as possible. As much as brands toss the words engagement and content marketing and social media and mobile around the boardrooms, they’re still ultimately looking for one thing: a quick impression… or another place to put an ad.

Welcome to the post-impression era.

Digital is not television. No newsflash there, but it doesn’t take much scratching beneath the surface to see that when digital media does things like get a mass amount of consumers to follow and connect with a brand, the conversation (from the brand side) swiftly turns to, "ok, when can we start pushing them to buy stuff?" It seems like the greater goal of what digital can deliver gets lost in the mix as the brands and traditional agencies fall back on the dogma of the mass media industrial complex. We just can’t seem to shake it off. No matter how hard we try.


Several weeks ago, I was giving a presentation to an executive board of a major international brand. At the end of the presentation, one of senior marketers approached me and asked about how we could best take the concepts from CTRL ALT Delete and bring them into the organization. Personally, I was mystified as this brand had just announced a brand new agency of record relationship with one of the big, multinational shops. This marketing professional then said, "I think that they don’t get digital," which surprised me even more considering this agency’s known reputation for quality digital. Digging a little deeper, it became clear that this agency is skilled at taking advertising, spinning it for digital and creating highly effective digital advertising, but they lack any ability to do anything more than digital advertising. It may seem like semantics, but it’s not. Being able to take an advertising campaign and make it work in digital channels is no small feat. It’s a complex and highly fragmented platform with many players vying for attention in some strange ways. What the media professionals who complain about Tumblr don’t understand is this: it may not be just about where the ads go, but rather about what a brand can do in this channel to create something interesting for the Tumblr community and make a name for themselves. In short: it’s not about advertising, it’s about marketing.

It’s not just Tumblr.

Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, blogs, whatever are ambiguous. They are neither great for brands or bad for brands. They simply are. They are publishing and content channels that enable the content to be as shareable and findable as possible (when done well). Tumblr’s business may not be to convince the traditional media buyers that the true revenue and value will come from how many ads can be plastered on it. It’s a tough pill for the big advertising networks to swallow. They balked at Google, until they were forced to embrace performance-based advertising. They balked at Facebook, until they were forced to understand that the work is about creating social stories that make sense in the context of the newsfeed. And now, they’re balking at Tumblr. Even while they are forced to divert media spend to Google, Facebook, Twitter and beyond, this shifting of media dollars still constitutes a minor effort. This isn’t about whether more effort needs to put into Tumblr (that’s a strategic decision that every brand will need to make for itself). This is about the perception that advertising is the gateway and metric for success in these channels. The opportunity for Tumblr (and other channels), is for the brand to figure out a strategy, voice, level of engagement and commitment to provide some semblance of a utility that creates an additive effect for the people who are connected there. If you strip that last sentence down, it’s not something that traditional ad agencies or media buyers do all that well.

A new dawn.

Thinking that a fully integrated ad agency will solve all of these challenges is going to cause some serious brand/agency relationship challenges moving forward (and yes, it is in my vested interest, as a digital marketing agency owner, to say this). Coming out of the Mirren New Business Conference this past May, it seems like the key search consultants agree. Most frequently, the smartest brands are now looking for "teams of record" over the old "agency of record" model. They are looking for both subject matter experts who have depth of both the industry and niche that they serve. Brands now need business solutions to solve the marketing challenge, not just an advertising one. Thinking that the only way Yahoo will recoup their billion dollar investment of Tumblr will be through an integrated advertising opportunity is probably very shortsighted.

Are brands still confusing advertising with marketing or are they simply struggling to adapt to the new reality?

One comment

  1. I wish business would also understand the difference between customer service and sales too. I’m so fed up with this from the side of being a customer and the side of being a customer service person who has to deal with customers I’m supposed to sell to rather than spend time helping them.

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