August 01, 2007

The End of the World

I have good news.

We haven’t all died from bird flu. Or from SARS. Or from ebola virus.

Oh, and we survived Y2K pretty much intact.

And if you can’t sleep nights worrying about global warming, here are a few quotes that might help:

In “The Cooling World," April 28, 1975 Newsweek informed us that meteorologists "are almost unanimous" that “catastrophic famines might result from…global cooling”

On Sept. 14, 1975 The New York Times told us that this global cooling "may mark the return to another ice age."

And on May 21, 1975 the Times said "a major cooling of the climate is widely considered inevitable" because it has been "well established" that the climate in the Northern Hemisphere "has been getting cooler since about 1950."

I could go on.

The point is, I know nothing about climate or disease. But I do know something about media hysteria. Since the beginning of civilization, it’s been pretty clear that you can make a nice living predicting the end of the world. And while the end of the world has been predicted with great regularity by experts for thousands of years, so far no one has been right. Not a single, solitary one of ‘em.

Nonetheless, this never seems to deter the catastrophists and their impressionable followers

It is also true in the advertising business. In my lifetime the advertising business was going to be destroyed by:

a) Cable TV
b) Generic brands (an oxymoron?)
c) The VCR
d) The computer (Remember? Clients were going to make spots on their desktops!)
e) Wal-Mart
f) Digital cable TV (Remember? During programs, we were going to click on products that were placed in “content” and be taken to “long form” info- somethings and then order the product through our TV! Golly!)

Now the experts all agree that advertising will die at the hands of “new media”: the internet plus iPods plus cell phones plus TiVo plus who-the-hell-knows what.

From the usually sensible Bob Garfield in Advertising Age, March 26, 2007, “It's a world ... in which ad agencies are marginalized ... in which marketing -- and even branding -- are conducted without much reliance on the 30-second spot or glossy spread.... Because nobody is much interested in seeing them, and because soon they will be largely unnecessary.”

I could go on.

Once again, the experts are wrong. Advertising is not dying and will not die. Here’s why:

1. People love entertainment.
2. People would rather get their entertainment free than pay for it.
3. Advertisers provide people with free entertainment. No one else does.
4. People have always been willing to put up with ads in order to get free entertainment.
5. This will not change.

Do you think Yahoo or Google would be where they are today if they were not supported by advertising? (i.e., free.) And if you believe, as some pundits do, that free television will soon be replaced by paid downloads, take a look at what happened to Napster when it went from free to not free.

Sure, the TV networks will have it a lot tougher as people continue to adjust to a new, more diverse media landscape. But, c’mon, are you really worried about the tv networks?

The new media hysterics are the same crowd who sold us the new economy back in 1999. You remember, brick-and-mortar stores were dead; we would be ordering our dog food and batteries on line! Golly! In the meantime, my local supermarket seems to be doing just fine.

New media alarmists have it wrong in another way, too. They have convinced the highly impressionable marketing and advertising communities to focus on the wrong things. The key issue for advertisers is the same as it’s always been: It’s the message, stupid.

If the message is right, who cares what screen people watch it on? If the message is wrong, what difference does it make?

If you agree with us, be prepared to be told that you are clueless and you just don’t get it. In fact, it is the new media crowd who don’t get it. Radio was not killed by television, as was predicted. Movies were not killed by television or the VCR, as was predicted.

New media will take their place alongside traditional media. They will all be supported by advertising. The laws of economics have not been repealed. End of story.

It will soon become apparent that the advertising industry, far from dying, is in a substantial growth period. It will be re-energized, redefined, and creatively refreshed by the diversity of media. Marketers will need the creativity of the advertising community more than ever.

To paraphrase George Bernard Shaw, perspective is called cluelessness by those who don’t have it.


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