Marketers' immoderate obsession with dubious metrics is having a profound influence on the nature of advertising.
I was with a group of broadcast executives recently and what I heard was not surprising. Their clients are now evaluating their broadcast advertising the same way they used to evaluate direct mail -- what's our cost-per-response?
Of course, most broadcast advertising is not meant to elicit a direct response, but this doesn't stop dimwits from trying to attribute a cost-per-response value to it.
More than any other trend, this may be the one that has the longest, largest and most detrimental effect on the ad business. Advertising is evolving from an activity whose most valued purpose was to build brands into an activity whose primary purpose is to trigger an immediate response. These ends are not synonymous.
Here are four reasons why this is happening:
- We have lost confidence in "branding" For two decades the ad industry has been spewing a constant stream of dreadful, mind-numbing brand babble. This hogwash has completely misrepresented how strong brands in most categories are built. The result is that "branding" has become a meaningless, catch-all term for anything with a client's logo on it that an agency can charge for.
- We have lost confidence in creativity As we described in last Tuesday's post, the ad industry is abandoning its primary reason for existence -- the creation of imaginative advertising. Marketers once believed that creativity was a valuable asset. Now it is merely given lip service. Leaders of the ad industry are no longer crafts people. They are lawyers, accountants and financiers. It is no surprise that they value numbers over ideas. The industry has always had to prove to clients that creativity is a worthwhile pursuit. We have given up. It's easier to sell metrics and data, regardless of how misleading and shortsighted they are. The "creative community" is also complicit in diminishing the stature of creativity by associating it with unconscionable excess. The sickening images of outrageous immoderation that emanate from Cannes every year reinforce all the bad myths of wasteful, childish creative people.
- We are making a virtue of necessity We have convinced clients that the web is the non plus ultra of advertising. Unfortunately, the facts tell a different story. Online advertising has thus far proven to be a lousy brand-building medium. Walk through your local supermarket or Target or Walmart and see if you can find any brands built by online advertising. So what is web advertising good for? Thus far, it has been effective at search and moderately effective at a certain type of direct response. Since we've grossly exaggerated the power of online advertising, we now have to justify our irrational exuberance by making the modest direct response abilities of the web the standard by which advertising is judged.
- Nobody understands the data There are 50 ways that you've never heard of to spin, misinterpret, hide, and complicate-beyond-comprehension the data you get from web metrics. Media deliveries are unreliable. Agency interpretation of media deliveries and costs are unreliable. Client-side presentations to management of media effectiveness and ROI are unreliable. However, the misplaced faith in data-based results allows media, agencies, and CMOs to reap the benefits of appearing fact-focused without actually being fact-focused. Marketing organizations, fed-up with brand babble, eat this stuff up. This is an enormous problem for agencies, and an equally enormous opportunity for frauds and con men. (By the way, for a terrific look at a related topic, I recommend this piece.)
In the middle are a lot of hard-working, talented people in agencies and marketing organizations who are being jerked around and pulled in all directions at once.
The result is an industry that is being re-made. It is defaulting to its most defensible, yet short-sighted, application -- direct response.
Apparently The Wall Street Journal agrees. Thanks to Roger Lewis for sending this.