Advertising is dead. No it’s not. Yes it is. No it’s not!
The debate about the death of advertising is not new. People have been going back and forth on that for years, and the rise of digital marketing has amplified the rhetoric dramatically. An entire cottage industry is marketing the death of advertising, for its own benefit.
But history is littered with these Chicken Little stories of advertising’s demise…
Back in the early 1950’s, when TVs first made their way into living rooms across America, television proponents confidently proclaimed “Radio is dead. TV’s taking over. It’s doomsday for radio.”
Obviously, that didn’t happen. Radio evolved.
It was not the death of advertising. The new medium didn’t replace the old one. And no one — not even the television network executives — started calling the new cool thing “Television Marketing.”
It was just another new advertising platform. Same as “digital marketing.”
So don’t write the obituaries yet. Advertising isn’t dead, it’s just evolving again, and adapting to new consumer behavior patterns and new technologies. As it always has.
In 1981 MTV hit the Cable TV airwaves, and again, the Chicken Littles were saying “Radio is Dead.” This time, for sure. Why would anyone just listen to music when you can watch the music videos?
Still didn’t happen.
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In the late 1990s when Email was widely adopted, the sky was falling for the direct mail business. “Direct mail is dead.” “No more junk mail,” they said.
My first job out of college was in the direct response industry, and one thing’s for sure… those guys aren’t stupid. They’re the original data-marketing gurus. They test everything, and if something isn’t working, they stop doing it.
And yet, look at that… Those credit card offers continue to roll into my mail box via the good ‘ol USPS. Non-profits still raise millions through the mail, and many of the catalog companies still print catalogs.
So, no… direct mail isn’t dead either. The ROI is undeniable. Otherwise, they wouldn’t keep doing it.
Doomsday hype about the death of advertising peaked again back in the early 2000s with the intro of TiVo’s disruptive new technology. Surely, this new-found ability to fast forward over commercials will seal the fate of the advertising business!
Disruptive new technology keeps coming along, but it’s not a fatal wound for radio or TV or any other medium.
Today the amount of money spent on the “traditional” advertising channels — TV, radio, print and outdoor — is declining relative to the growth in advertising on digital channels. In 2018, for the first time in history, worldwide digital ad spending outpaced television ad spending.
But that doesn’t spell the death of advertising. And we don’t need to coin a new term for advertising that’s placed on digital channels.
It’s not digital marketing, it’s digital advertising. It falls under the umbrella of advertising. And, of course, advertising is just one of many business disciplines that fall under the bigger umbrella of Marketing. So the hierarchy goes like this:
Branding. (This is the broadest discipline.)
Marketing (Remember the 4 P’s: “Price, Product, Place, Promotion”)
Advertising (Just one of many options under “Promotion”)
Media Buying (A specialty underneath the Advertising header.)
Out of home
Just because digital is the only medium that many small companies choose doesn’t mean it’s “Marketing.”
Search advertising and social media advertising are relatively inexpensive tactical advertising options. They make advertising accessible to millions of small businesses that that never would have spent money on a TV campaign. So there are a lot more businesses participating than there used to be.
The fact is, there’s actually more advertising out there today than at any time in history.
We’ve never been exposed to so much commercial messaging. It’s everywhere we turn, at every minute of the day, no matter what we’re doing. We literally can not escape the ads.
I find it ironic that most of the”advertising is dead” proponents run digital marketing agencies whose sole purpose is placing promotional “content” on all the new digital channels.
How is that NOT advertising? Look it up.
In the golden age of television advertisers only had three channels to choose from for their Brylcreem and cigarette commercials. It really was a shotgun approach to mass media.
Now you can stream your commercial on hundreds of cable channels and thousands of digital platforms to a highly targeted demographic group while they’re watching a specific type of content on a specific type of device in a specific geographic area.
It’s more targeted — more granular — but it’s still advertising.
As long as there is capitalism, companies will always find ways to communicate with prospective customers. The forms will continue to evolve, but there will always be commercial messages out there. I’m not a media planner, but believe me, there are a million different ways to get your commercial message in front of highly targeted audiences.
Wise CEOs and Marketing Directors never put all their eggs in one media basket. No matter what they call it.
I don’t expect the death of advertising debate to end any time soon. It’s a simple matter of self-interest and survival…
Radio industry execs will cite plenty of credible studies that prove radio is not dead. In fact, one recent study featured a a snack food brand that spent $1.5 million on radio and generated $10.8 million in added sales. That’s the kind of ROI that the digital guys routinely tout.
Television execs point to the massive reach of television during live sporting events and reality TV shows. Also, it’s still the preferred medium of fortune 500 marketing executives because of its power to connect emotionally with an audience. You won’t hear about the death of advertising from that group.
Traditional Advertising Agencies want to hang onto their golden ticket — media buying revenues — so they promote a balanced, wholistic approach that includes traditional and digital channels. Can’t blame them for that.
Specialized agencies in the digital space will continue to promote the importance of a digital-only approach. It’s in their best interest to claim the sky is falling on TV, Radio and everything else that’s not in their wheelhouse.
But there’s one thing that’s not debatable: No matter how you choose to deliver your advertising messages, the strategy and execution matters as much as the medium.
The brand strategy is your guidepost. Everything you produce should be held accountable to that. Strategy dictates “what to say.”
Execution is “How you say it.” This is the the craft of it all… the creative piece that’s a complete mystery to 99% of the world.
So the next time you’re thinking of running ads — digital or otherwise — think twice about how you’re portraying your company, your product, or yourself.
Because crappy advertising in any medium is still crappy advertising. And if that’s all you do, then yes, the sky really will be falling down around you.