March 25, 2009

Advertising Is Dead Again

This week there have been two major pieces about the death of advertising. One was very dumb, the other was very smart.

The dumb one was by some professor at Wharton with credentials from Cornell and MIT.

The smart one was by Bob Garfield of Ad Age. (Give me a wise-ass over a PhD any day.)

Let's talk about the dumb one today and the smart one tomorrow.

The dumb one is called Why Advertising Is Failing On The Internet* which, I have to admit, is a very promising title. Unfortunately, it was a nice piece of bait and switch. The article is really about the same old crap we've been reading for 10 years -- the death of advertising.

He starts out by defining advertising:
"Advertising is using sponsored commercial messages to build a brand and paying to locate these messages where they will be observed by potential customers performing other activities; these messages describe a product or service, its price or fundamental attributes, where it can be found, its explicit advantages, or the implicit benefits from its use."
Only a professor could use over 50 words to define advertising without mentioning the only important thing about it: it's supposed to sell shit.

He says,
"My basic premise is that the internet is not replacing advertising but shattering it..."
Then he goes on to give 3 reasons why:

"Consumers do not trust advertising."
Now there's a bulletin. When in recorded history did people trust advertising? The correct answer: Never. Has the internet changed that? No.
"Consumers do not want to view advertising."
Really? Got news for you professor. Consumers have never wanted to view advertising. They do it for one reason only -- free entertainment. It's a bribe, get it? You wanna watch American Idol? You gotta watch this McDonald's spot.
"Consumers do not need advertising."
You mean they used to need advertising before the internet? Like when? The only people who need advertising are brand managers, ad agencies and Rupert Murdoch. To everyone else in the world it's a pain in the ass. Always has been, always will be.

Yeah, advertising is dead.

It's on every blimp, hat, subway tunnel, shopping cart, every fucking t-shirt in every airport in the world, every urinal, every stick that separates my groceries from the smelly guy in front of me, every bus stop, gasoline pump, museum map, supermarket floor, license plate holder, taxi top, sidewalk, bus side, bus bench, bus shelter, umbrella, Chinese take-out box, stadium cup holder, shopping bag, side of a building, roof of a warehouse, napkin, coaster, pizza box, grocery receipt, milk carton, boarding pass, theater ticket, dry cleaning bag... every square inch of the fucking planet is covered in advertising and this schmuck is telling us it's dead.

Whew, that feels better.

Advertising will be here long after every professor with a bow tie gets his heavenly tenure. It will still be here when "the internet" is the punch line to a joke about primitive technology.

Now, for tomorrow: Your assignment is to read this very smart piece by Bob Garfield. He makes a much more convincing, and frightening, case than the professor-- based on economic realities. Then we'll talk about what's right and what's wrong, and why advertising will survive -- even if CBS, Newsweek, and the San Francisco Chronicle don't.

*Thanks to Randy for sending this article to me.

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