Does Advertising Even Work Any More? Of Course It Does!

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Today, one of my favorite online publications, Digiday, published the article, Does advertising even work any more?

Read the article. Consumers may not like crappy ads (of which, there are plenty). Consumers may not like it when their content is interrupted by ads (nobody likes being interrupted). Advertisers may not like that consumers don’t “engage” with their ads. None of that really matters. For all of the problems that advertising – as an industry – faces, make no mistake about it… it works. First, here’s what the editorial angle of the Digiday article states: “Is it all just a big waste of space, time and money? I’m talking about all types of advertising here: internet, native, TV, video, mobile, print, branded content, matchbooks, stunts, product placement, sandwich boards. All of it. I think it just might be.” 

Everyone is entitled to their opinion, so here’s mine: Advertising is alive and well… and, it’s not even close to being on life support.

Let’s look at these two significant facts:

One. Advertising spend has increased over time. It’s slowing down, but it’s still growing and the number is significant. From the eMarketer article titled, Worldwide Ad Spending Growth Revised Downward (published in April of this year): “Spending on paid media worldwide will climb 5.7% in 2016 to $542.55 billion, propelled by increased investments in digital advertising. This is lower than eMarketer’s previous forecast, but still represents accelerated growth when compared with 2015 (5.0%). This year, ad expenditures will be boosted by incremental spending generated around quadrennial events, most notably the US presidential election and Rio Summer Olympics.” Businesses are not dumb. They’re not tossing half a trillion dollars into an engine that doesn’t turn on. Speak to any significant advertiser, and the story is the same: when they have tried to stop spending on advertising, they watched their sales drop. There is a direct correlation. Yes, there will be some (maybe many) anomalies to this. Yes, there are tons of other marketing initiatives that can be used, in a world where marketers have many more tools than simply advertising to reach an audience. That doesn’t diminish the power of advertising. Plus, it’s easy to toss off a phrase like “advertising doesn’t work,” but take that $500+ billion dollars, and look at how it correlates to the global marketplace, health of business, and the overall GDP of nations. Advertising (and the entire marketing industry) has a massive impact on what keeps our economy moving.

Two. Advertising isn’t engagement. This is a myth that has been sold for decades as a way to push brands to spend more. It has no basis in reality. An ad has one, truly unique, job: to create an impression. The concept of advertising is basic: pay for the ability to get a consumer’s attention. You can promise engagement, clicks and conversions as much as you like, but this is a by-product of what great advertising can do. It’s not the main thing that it does. Ads, by their very nature, are a paid form of distraction. The question is this: can you make an ad a pleasant, memorable and/or a powerful distraction? One that the consumer doesn’t mind. One that creates a positive distraction. To say that advertising doesn’t work because the data is clear that nobody knows if online advertising works or only five percent of people say that social media has a great deal of influence on their purchasing decisions, is not fact based. First, we don’t know how well these ads operate in the environment. Meaning, it could well be the ads don’t fit the media, and not that advertising doesn’t work there. Secondly, if you’re trying to do more than create an impression, you may be measuring the wrong thing to begin with.

So, what works if advertising doesn’t? More ads, of course! 

The Digiday article suggests that the opportunity for advertisers is to create “un-ads” (aka an ad that doesn’t sell, but uses mystery, comedy and/or cynicism to say something). So… an ad, with a different creative bent is the future of advertising? The author also suggests storytelling or “causevertising.” The truth is, that all three of those areas still require advertising to work. Why? Well, let’s say you make an “undo,” it’s still placed and paid for like an ad. Let’s say you lean more towards telling a story or getting behind a cause, how do you promote this to the general public and let them know that you’re doing it? (you will need ads to amp up the awareness… it’s a fact. PR alone won’t do it).

Advertising is not bad advertising. Advertising is information.

Think about concert announcements, movie trailers or that billboard that tells you that your favourite breakfast cereal now comes in cinnamon flavour (hmmm….. cinnamon). Without advertising how would you know? The dissidents think that you would find out from friends. But, who is patient zero? How do they find out this information? Why would they share this information? How often would they be willing to share this information? Advertising doesn’t just have a financial attachment to our economy, it has an informational aspect to it as well. This “information” won’t always get picked up by the media, so these products and services have to pay for that information to be distributed. Yes, we need better ways to tell better stories in advertising, especially when you consider the channels that marketers now have at our fingerprints, but to question whether or not ads work because millennials have developed an immunity to getting their attention away from Snapchat, is also diminishing a very healthy industry.

Here’s a real fact: if I don’t put some advertising dollars behind promoting this article, the odds of it being seen by a larger audience are minimal. No matter how great of story or cause it may be.