August 05, 2013

4 Reasons For Advertising's Radical Remake

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.) 
The long-term value of advertising as a way to build a brand is being squeezed at both ends. From the top it is being squeezed by clueless brand babblers who have given traditional advertising a bad name. From the bottom it is being squeezed by delusional digi-hustlers who are promising what they can't deliver.

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.


Bulldog Marketing & Sales said...

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Cecil B. DeMille said...

I find that the more irrelevant the message, the more the client believes it is branding. While every ad may not be a "branding" ad, every ad does have the potential to affect change within it. But I digress.

The real problem with the industry is leadership, and has been for quite a while. Our luminaries like Ogilvy and Bernbach are long gone. They describe a different business than we have today. The things we all believe – and that they put into words – are now more fiction than fact.

We need leadership. We need someone to set things right. Sadly, Holding Companies have made such things not only improbable, but impractical. We are rudderless and shall remain so for the foreseeable future. Nostalgia may be all we have left.

DC Montreal said...

As an average TV viewer I was struck by something last evening. While watching an ad for President's Choice on my 42 inch HDTV I noticed for the first time that I can actually read the small print. Before the HDTV I would have no doubt been over-the-moon amazed that PC pigs are antibiotic free. But with the HDTV I could read the small print and understand that ALL pigs raised in Canada for consumption are antibiotic free. Seems to me this may have an impact on advertising.

customerspecs said...

Financeers are more likely to accept creative ideas if they are presented as a way of shortening the buying cycle, because this would lower the cost per customer.

It is possible to convince some executives with an accounting mindset that the "creative" ads have a high recall rate, which makes them more conducive to sales than generic ads. The reason for this is because a brand that stands out needs to repeat less.

John Keith said...

Interesting post...