Advertising Is Dying? Nah.

People have been predicting this for decades.

Photo by  Jon Tyson  on  Unsplash

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

In a prior post in Our Golden Age of Bullshit, I came down pretty hard on digital advertising, which generally is terrible and is usually so because it’s tinged by corruption.

When measurements are consistently revised downward by orders of magnitude after certain tech companies are caught lying, and when the metrics that were used to come with those numbers are conveniently a proprietary mystery, it’s safe to say that a lot of businesses are wasting a lot of money on B.S. digital advertising these days.

But not all digital advertising is bad. It’s been poisoned by obsessive tracking, and it there are some conflicting interests at play, but even so, there are examples of smart and effective digital ads, and certain species of it (like email marketing) can be respectable and effective.

But what about traditional advertising? TV, radio, billboards, print. You know, the kind whose death people have been foretelling since at least the 1990s, when the internet started to shake its ass. (Go ahead and Google “traditional advertising is dying” or its daft cousin, “advertising agencies are dying”.)

I’m not the first to call B.S. on this by any means, but let me add to the fray to say that advertising, and advertising agencies, are and will continue to be just fine. And not just because they’re so good at evolving for survival.

One reason for the premature death knells is a common misconception about what advertising is. These days all advertising is associated with click ads and crappy banners, which means advertising itself is easier to write off as annoying noise at best, and something to be avoided whenever possible.


What Traditional Advertising Isn’t

Well, it isn’t freaking DEAD, that’s for sure. Exhibit QED: AdAge just named its 2018 Marketer of the Year, and it’s Nike.

Now some of you may recall a certain ad campaign that erupted at the end of the summer and still hasn’t quite gone away.

Here’s the thing. It started essentially as a billboard and print ad — a format (or “platform”) that would have been completely recognizable 100 years ago. (Of course it worked on screens too, but the principle holds.)

Lots of people loved it, lots of people hated it. The media went apeshit ginning up more controversy over it, and it’s all advertising people talked about for a while.

It would be hard to put it better than author and Northwestern University professor Dr. Judy Franks, who shared this insight on Twitter right away:

And that was before the two-minute spot and its various cutdowns started dropping on TVs during high-rating moments (which is still happening).

None of this was a fluke. While the campaign was exceptional (it dominated media for an inordinate amount of time, partly due to its provocative stance, but mostly because it was beautifully executed), the overarching reason for its tremendous reach and success is because there are simply no better ways to advertise than what is lamely known as traditional advertising.

Metrics You Can Actually Believe: Traditional Wins, Hands Down

A research report published jointly by the UK group Radiocentre and the communications consultancy Ebiquity measured numerous criteria across all forms of advertising, from effective targeting, campaign ROI, audience emotional response, and what they refer to as “brand salience. “ Then they gave each method a general score weighing their overall performance across all those categories.

The results show that across the board — as in across all measurable categories — the top performers were TV, radio, and print (newspapers and magazines, specifically), in that order. Nipping at their heels was out-of-home advertising (or OOH — think billboards and bus-stop ads), another cornerstone of traditional advertising.

And which methods came in last? Online display ads, online video, and paid social media — all of which did even worse than direct mail, that scourge of the earth.

The second part of the report then measured marketers’ perception of each advertising method’s effectiveness. The performance of online video and social media were vastly overestimated (though interestingly, “online display” was still perceived as being largely worthless — why do we do this to ourselves again?). And traditional advertising was largely undervalued.

How could perceptions be so off? Particularly in the minds of people in the advertising industry — the very folks creating all this stuff and convincing businesses to shell out big bucks for it?

That answer is complicated but at its root is the fact that without the ability to check the real performance of online ads (who you gonna believe? Facebook?), those B.S. numbers are taken at face value.

Traditional advertising lives! Spotted this poster in Echo Park…two days before Spotify alerted me to the drop, btw.

Traditional advertising lives! Spotted this poster in Echo Park…two days before Spotify alerted me to the drop, btw.

Everyone is telling brands that they simply have to advertise online because that’s where their audience is. Few ever qualify that advice in any meaningful way. Then, because it’s ubiquitous, few question the status quo or, you know, look into whether it actually works. And it’s easy for everyone to just play along because digital advertising is viewed as easy money, since they’re so cheap to make.

Again, at the heart of this mess lies a misconception of what advertising is and what it is for.

Back to the Why

Why do iconic brands — the Nikes, Apples, McDonald’ses, and Coca-Colas of the world — spend exorbitant amounts making TV spots, when they’re already on top of the world?

Because as Nike just retaught everyone who somehow forgot, if they’re not talking about you, they’re talking about something else, and you’re one step closer to losing ground.

It’s another misconception to think that consumers really care that much about any brand, but that doesn’t mean any brand wants to be forgotten.

And it just so happens that the best way to not be forgotten is to advertise on TV, radio, and in print. And to get the most from that advertising budget, be willing to make something that’ll actually get noticed.

To do that, are you willing to get a little bit weird, or over-the-top, or provocative, or self-deprecating, or absurd, or avant-garde with it? Are you afraid to make something strange enough to be remembered? If you’re afraid of that, then why? You should be more afraid of wasting your budget on forgettable trash.

Here’s an example of how it’s done:

eat the ice cream eat the ice cream eat the ice cream eat the ice cream eat the ice cream eat the ice cream eat the ice cream eat the ice cream eat̸ ̴the̛ ̶i͠ce ̡c҉r̨e͝am ̕ea͢t t͟he͢ ice c̢ream͜ ̶e̶át ҉th͘e íce ̀c͡re̴am ęat t͏he͢ ̛i͏c̸e͝ cr̷e͞am e̸a̢t͟ t͞he͘ i̶c͞e̴ ͞crea͢m ͞e͜at̡ th͞e ̴i̶ce̷ ćre͢a͠m̷ ̷eat͠ ̸the ic̴e cr̨eám̨ ̀eąt͝ t͞h̨e҉ ̡i̛c҉e ͘çr͢e̶am ̗̲̤̖̜́e̴̫a͉͙̭̥͕t ̴̬̰̠̗͇̙t̜̺͈̹̰̘̪́h͙͈͟e̱͔̬̻ͅ ̵͓̩̼ic͎̣̮̹̤e͚͇͈̦̥͖ ̱̯̞c̦̝̖̯͎r̻͈͎e͈̬͎̫̫a̦͔̦̗̮̻m̞ ̹̱͟e̗̙̙̩̮a̯̜̰ͅț̖̦͟ ̟̪̞t̥̲̕h͕̕e̘ i̴͙c̗̭͖̠̤̖e̺̩̪̺ ͍̝͍̝͞c̘̫̮̣̰r̳̬͕̖̩ȩ͈̩a̳̯̜̟̯̖m̜͍ ̸ea̠̩͖̖t͓̪ ͠t̬̤̲̮͕̼͢h͕͕̳͉̙ẹ͢ ̶̫͈̱͉i̵̦̮͎͕̹̟c̟̙̦̗͓̘̺͝e̺̩̯̹̕ ̺̠̤͜c҉͕͕̠̫̘̖̤r̖̝͍͍̣̹ḙ͚͎a̮m̬̮͍͉̻̜ ̸ea̠̩͖̖t͓̪ ͠t̬̤̲̮͕̼͢h͕͕̳͉̙ẹ͢ ̶̫͈̱͉i̵̦̮͎͕̹̟c̟̙̦̗͓̘̺͝e̺̩̯̹̕ ̺̠̤͜c҉͕͕̠̫̘̖̤r̖̝͍͍̣̹ḙ͚͎a̮m̬̮͍͉̻̜ song:

It seems strange to say so considering how ads are perceived today, but commercials can actually be enjoyed. The best ads even merit repeat views because of their artistic integrity. That artistic integrity might sometimes be for sale, but it can never be faked. And when you’re trying to get someone’s attention or respect, nothing supersedes its power — especially when it’s on a TV screen.



Posted on December 16, 2018