Subscibe to DEAL OF THE DAY

April 03, 2019

Why I No Longer Believe In Advertising

Gadgets2by: Jaffer Ali
(Originally Published: December 19, 2009)

The end of the year is always a good time to reflect on the past. The older we get, the farther we travel. The road to our present business has been one of buying, owning and selling media of just about every type. Following is a short list of media that we have bought and/or sold over the years:

Online E-zines
Banners Online video
Subway Posters
Local Cable
National Cable

I'm sure the above list is not complete, but you get the point: when it comes to media buying and selling, we've pretty much tried them all, been there and done that. You'd think after all these years of buying and selling media across so many different channels that I'd find a softer place in my heart for advertising. But in fact, I've reached the conclusion in recent months that advertising has outlived its usefulness as an effective tool to influence people. Influence is not a pass-fail issue, rather one that like most everything else rides a continuum.

There is a point at which a quantitative loss or gain ushers in a qualitative change or 'leap.' Start pulling out your hairs one at a time and eventually you become bald (high-minded theory aside, my own scalp crossed that threshold some years ago).

Over the past several years, the advertising industry has suffered a huge loss in "influence" and now has so few hairs left that the model looks like the top of Mr. Clean's head.

If, however, you don't believe advertising effectiveness is declining then you should stop reading this article immediately. Reason will not make you see. Only continued pain might awaken you from the nightmare of a failed model and misplaced sympathies.

So what are marketers, brands and, yes, even politicians doing to counter this metaphorical hair loss? Their first reaction is to "double down" and increase impressions. After all, if what you're doing doesn't work anymore, it only makes sense to do more of it, right? If shampooing twice a week with doesn't stimulate hair growth, imagine if you used it every day!

It is "magical thinking" that doing more of what doesn't work suddenly works. We experience this "magical thinking" with our economic policies that solves our debt problem by piling on more debt. So it is not surprising that magical or delusional thinking is gripping our advertising industry.

But there are some folks confronting reality and dealing with a transition that eschews traditional advertising and uses content instead of commercials to build and deliver audiences. And they're doing it in different ways: product placement and content curation are just two ways of using content instead of traditional advertising to build and deliver audiences.

Now entering its third generation, the digital era has precipitated two powerful truisms:

1. no one wants more advertising,
2. everyone wants more high-quality content

Perhaps not surprisingly, the above are the same truisms encountered by print, radio and TV as well. Yet marketers across all media insist on investing in more ways to deliver advertising messages that a) no one wants, and b) that everyone is now equipped to avoid.

Do you require proof that content works better to build and deliver audiences than advertising? Consider how the Bush team perfected the use of content to nudge a nation toward war, despite the fact that no one can recall a specific marketing message to that effect. What we saw instead was a $250,000-richer Armstrong Williams on network cable touting the Bush company line. What we read instead was the NY Times' Judith Miller presenting Pentagon views on WMDs. Was she also paid for her "reporting"? And how about those 150 retired generals flown to Washington DC, briefed with talking points and dispatched as "expert sources" to newspapers, television and cable news outlets? Heck, you don't expect these guys to work for free, do you?

$1.6 billion in expenditures by the Bush administration to "sell" or "influence" a nation into war...without a single ad! At this very moment, the Obama administration is invoking these same lessons as they condition the public to support the Afghan surge. Governments and propagandists the world over have long understood the powerful sway of content. So why is the advertising ecosystem still trying to cover its bald pate with such a lousy toupee?

No one watches TV, listens to the radio, reads a magazine or surfs the web for the advertising. That era started winding down the moment the TV remote control eliminated the need to get up from the couch to change the channel. Advertising has been in a perpetual state of declining performance ever since, as each new digital device designed to facilitate more media consumption also equipped consumers with the additional technology to avoid more ads.

I will end with an invitation for a dialog. If you want to discuss how you can not just build audiences, but deliver them utilizing content, give me a call. My direct line is 708-478-4500 ext. 105.

Original Article: Why I No Longer Believe In Advertising