Fear And Loathing In Advertising

Posted by

What a long, strange trip it’s been.

There are many who think that advertising as we have known it to date is going to rapidly change in our new media world. There are days when I feel this way (and you’ve read about it here), but there are days when I think to myself that if advertisers get it right, the opportunity going forward is bigger, better and more opportunistic than ever before. The only way to capture that opportunity is to be ready for it. The challenge with that is that marketers are woefully bad at grabbing these new opportunities and really running with them. For an industry that is littered with creativity driven by being culturally relevant, it’s (somewhat) shocking to see how long, hard and slow it is to move the proverbial needle. It’s no longer even about being ready for it, consumers are fundamentally ahead of the marketers and the brands that they represent, so while it would be nice to have some advertising agencies at the bleeding edge, it would be nice to have just a few more at the leading edge to get our noses just a bit further ahead of those hyper-connected and highly untethered consumers.

So many more channels, platforms and places.

TV, radio, print and even out-of-home advertising was never an easy business, but it was very simple in its architecture. If you wanted your advertising to be seen by as many people as possible, you stuffed your messages where the people were (primetime TV, the Sunday paper, the morning drive, etc…). With just a handful of strategically placed ads, you could plaster the market, rinse and repeat. It’s a model that worked for decades. Today, there are many more platforms, many more channels and many more places. Fragmentation is often a word that seems trite by description in today’s marketing vernacular, but it’s still a massive shock to the advertising system that has yet to be reconciled.

The proof is in the spending.

My good friend, Avinash Kaushik (best-selling business book author of Web Analytics – An Hour A Day and Web Analytics 2.0 – along with being the Digital Marketing Evangelist at Google), posted to his Google+ page a graph that was taken from a February 20th, 2012 news item on The Next Web titled, Advertisers are spending way too much on print, too little on mobile. The main frustration that he expressed (and I’ll happily echo) is that there is a massive mismatch between where advertisers are spending their money and where consumers are spending their time. It’s such a basic equation and yet it is completely upside down when you look at the data.

Will this shock you?

From The Next Web news item: "…money continues to be poured into traditional mediums like print, radio and TV, despite the fact that Web and mobile platforms appear to be far more engaging with highly trackable and measurable results… the most valuable demographic behind the emerging potential of mobile advertising. The study shows that men and women between the ages of 18 and 34 are predictably most desired by advertisers. More specifically, women between the ages of 25 and 34 with an income of $60-80k are the most valuable of all." In a nutshell, the people are there, the time spent is there and advertisers are still fumbling around, finger’s crossed, that this is all just some bad nightmare. That the Web is a fad, that Social Media won’t maintain itself as a viable channel and that mobile is simply too nascent.

It’s not too late… but it’s not too early.

We can debate back and forth as to whether or not digital advertising can deliver at the same level that television can. It’s a debate and discourse that takes place on every channel (online or otherwise), but that’s not really the big issue or the big challenge (in fact, I’d love to take part in a debate that discusses if television advertising today can deliver at the same level that television did prior to the Internet). What this news item highlights (and it’s something that I’ve been banging the Blog drum about for close to a decade) is that the advertising money isn’t moving fast enough over into the channels where consumers are spending their actual time. And, because of fragmentation, even capturing those moments in time are becoming increasingly more difficult to do. So, while it’s not too late to get moving in the right direction, it’s also abundantly clear that it’s not too early either. The trick (as is always the case) is in doing right. And, until brands cowboy up and agencies up their game in terms of competency, it will be a game of dragging feet, finger pointing and general malaise when it comes to the marketing results of the bigger organizations. It’s a tragedy that can be easily averted if (and when) brands and the agencies that serve them, wake up and realize where their consumers truly are and the types of interactions they’re genuinely looking for (think marketing not advertising).

Treating Digital Marketing like a second-class and ghettoized citizen just isn’t going to cut it anymore… is it?


  1. Mitch,
    I think you may just be onto something (go figure).
    This post is great because it convincingly makes the high-level point, but lets us run with it where we may. You use the example of mobile and a quote by Avinash, but we can take it and run with it in a number of ways.
    Consumers *are* ahead of marketers. Cynical folks hector me and try to explain something to me re: traditional brands and the power that they (inevitably) exert in – say – the grocery store. So how is it that everyone I talk to is paying more attention to their health and going more often to the farmer’s market?
    Someone will make fun of Budweiser and mention (because I’m Canadian) that they “drink Labatt” or “Kokanee” – but I don’t drink swill as a rule. But I digress. My tastes have nothing to do with the tastes of consumers, necessarily.
    But I do like to think that there are great niche brands that can grow much larger (a la Lululemon) out of some kind of opposition to the “same old, same old”. Consumers are hungry for any sense of savvy, of getting it; to wit, Lululemon ran an April Fool’s promo with an all-out assault on the senses, digital-wise. A Geocities-style site with bad fonts, a hit counter, midi sound, and you name it, a real “mom and pop 1999 site” throwback. Brilliant.
    Our culture is irreverent and thoughtful and consumers use online tools to mine for information about their purchases, and to share among themselves.
    Yet many of those who speak for marketers and try to “write for” them (outdated reporting by people who take received wisdom and past wisdom as gospel, etc.) continue to obsess over 30-50 year old concepts.
    It’s amazing, in a way. Despite the degree of sophistication of major CPG companies and large retail operations (remember, they can gather immense amounts of data… just to take one example, by monitoring by camera how in store customer shop, hat tip my friend Mike Grehan in tonight’s daily debate), what chaps them is what they *can’t* control.
    Sir Martin Sorrell recently pointed out that “Google, Facebook, and Twitter are publishing companies with their own media properties… masquerading as technology companies.”
    1. True enough.
    2. You wish you didn’t have to “go there” and it is harder to implement the old models there for the prices you’d like to pay, so it’s sour grapes.
    The fact is, if the big marketers and agencies were going where the consumers already were (why aren’t they already there, given the cost advantage?), they’d have a much greater grasp of the online sites that represent consumer dialogue, company reputation, and other staples of online media.
    When sitting in one’s Facebook and Twitter account, the repertoire of ads (and even their format) would encompass more spend by large advertisers – better produced, and more respectful.
    I know large advertisers still spend ferociously on “top down style” creative and recruit “the best” to create it, even when the places they need to put that creative *do not accept* such creative. It’s not about hiring people with marginally different skill sets and putting the same creative in a slightly different place; it is about a chaos scenario where those models are going to be replaced (not entirely, of course) by something completely different.
    I suppose publishers like Facebook and Twitter seem to many to be making money hand over fist on advertising, but they should in fact be making more.
    Remember after the dot com bubble crashed in 2000-2001 etc., and in 2002-2003, rates and demand for banner ads were so low that Yahoo was bereft of quality advertisers? Classmates.com, at the time, and a few others, rode that wave for very low rates.
    You wonder what message is being sent by both these publishers and these advertisers… that so many of the ads we’re shown are of the “lowbrow” variety. It’s like somebody isn’t bothering to show up.
    It’s hard to lay the blame entirely at the feet of the advertisers, though. What’s the advertising model? What’s the appropriate trade-off for media consumers and users to consume ads, in what format?
    I, for one, find the choices Facebook has made thus far in their advertising layout to be – well – weird. I bring them up because they’re the biggest single non-Google platform on the landscape. Something that is such a household name that is showing me random lowbrow ads with “racy” (attention-grabbing) images, etc. Is that all there is?
    In the end, we will be left with something like the following:
    1. A media mix. A media budget. As always.
    2. “Something else” that you can’t buy, but must embrace, that will come with a cost. (Interactivity, reputation, transparency, a digital ‘identity’, PR 2.0).
    3. Data, data, data, and death to those who don’t deal well with it.
    4. Creative.
    Bye for now – Andrew

  2. There’s no doubt digital marketing is a powerhouse opportunity. Part of the problem may lie in the complexity of the medium. Print, TV and radio… let’s be honest, pretty straight forward. Digital is a whole different can of worms and for people who don’t have to deal with it day in and day out it can be downright scary… and it’s not going to get any less scary.

  3. I absolutely love this post. What I think would be interesting is to compile a list of some of the agencies that are actually ‘get it.’ A question I have for you is do you think that smaller (10 employees or less) agencies should be more advanced than they are, or do you think that their lack of resources are more to blame for being behind the curve?

  4. Good point Chris. I am a sponge when it comes to digital marketing, but it intimidates me. Only because everyday there is a new toy, and I have trouble keeping my hand out of the toybox. Everytime something new comes out, I feel like I have to try it. Then my LastPass account has over 100 logins saved and I haven’t used 90% of them more than a couple of times.

  5. I have always felt that unrealistic pressure – as a marketer – to deliver success 100% of the time. This pressure is what causes our analysis paralysis, or just slight hesitation to surge ahead when a new opportunity appears. But, especially when a medium is new, that pressure needs to back off and accept some failures in order to allow us to master the mediums and use creativity in them. I can’t imagine that most other marketers don’t deal with this same issue??

  6. Nice article, Mitch
    It is surprising how such a creative industry can be so slow sometimes. I think a lot of it is down to practicing what you preach, and so many companies and sectors are bad at this.
    A little more time spent being creative for the business a whole could go a long way to adding creativity to individual projects
    Matt (Turndog Millionaire)

  7. I would guess that being in a small agency would be advantageous in gaining the upper digital hand Kris. It does not take money in any real sense but it does take time. After the clock is punched anybody can chose to do the work but at the office it is only enlightened boss offers encouragement (time).

  8. It’s not even the new stuff stuff. Chris, you’re tapping into the core issue: SEO, SEM, affiliate marketing, online advertising, email marketing, Facebook marketing, Twitter, YouTube, etc… each and every one of these looks and acts differently and the skill-sets required to be successful are not so obvious. Should this intimidate marketers? Yes. Should make them not pay attention to it? No.

  9. I think small is good if you’re niche. Small is bad if you’re trying to handle a major brand account… there is just (usually) too much work to be done and that requires resources, so I would be cautious there. Your other point – about agencies that “get it” – is problematic because we tend to get lumped into the “digital marketing” silo. As a personal example, we’ve done strategy decks that have been presented to the client and the feedback we get is, “this isn’t just digital marketing, this is a new direction for our brand.” Umm…. yeah… exactly. But then, they have traditional advertising and media agencies that can’t/won’t let go. This is where a lot of the friction lies.

  10. It’s a part of the job, without question. We feel too – as an agency – when we’re presenting something new. If it makes the client uncomfortable, we don’t get the gig (not good). The challenge with the data speaks to another problem: the consumers are there and spending their time there. Now, we’re in situation where we’re throwing good money after bad… and that’s when it gets dangerous. Just ask any decent investment advisor ๐Ÿ™‚

  11. So much great additional insight here, thanks Andrew.
    My one additional to your treasure trove of thinking would be good, old fashioned marketing. Facebook ads? Sure. But why not look at the channel and say to yourself, “what can we do to really connect with our consumers here?”
    When that is done and the advertising simply compliments these strategies, we’ll uncover the gold. The challenge with that thinking is that it changes the dynamics with traditional advertising and media agencies.

  12. I think this is one of those many opportunities where the distinction between advertising and marketing needs to be made.
    Just because consumers are somewhere doesn’t mean that that “somewhere” is the right place to be advertising. I hope we don’t start bothering consumers on their mobile devices with more ads that they try to avoid as they do on other so many other channels.
    Creating experiences with brands, however, is another thing altogether.
    I worked with a digital agency that’s developing an app for a CPG brand that provides clear value to consumers while helping to increase the relevance of their brand.
    That’s smart marketing – advertising free.

  13. I have to agree that one factor why marketing fail is because companies does not market where their prospect spend their time. Let us take the internet for example, almost everyone are online everyday and to reach them we need to do more effort to our social media campaign. I read a blog saying that in marketing and advertising, timing is everything.
    Thanks for sharing this Mitch. Love your website by the way, so unique.

Comments are closed.