August 07, 2018

The First Principle Of Advertising

When you come to bat in a baseball game the first principle is to hit the ball. What happens after you hit the ball is out of your control. Where the ball happens to land and what the defense does is secondary. First you have to hit the ball.

If you can't hit the ball the rest is irrelevant. It doesn't matter how strong you are, or how fast you run, or how beautiful your swing is. If you can't hit the ball, you are useless.

In advertising there is also a first principle. The first principle of advertising is to attract someone's attention.

If your ad doesn't attract someone's attention, everything else is moot. It doesn't matter how lovely it is, how wonderfully it is written, how strategically brilliant it is, or how precisely it is targeted. If nobody notices it, it is a complete waste and utterly worthless.

Sadly, most advertising is invisible. Most advertising is ignored largely because it looks and sounds exactly like advertising -- and usually like someone else's advertising. This is not good. But there is one place where invisible advertising has found a welcome and comforting home -- online.

In other media, invisible advertising is recognized as a failure. Not online. Online advertising is judged by how precisely it is targeted, not how widely it is noticed.

In traditional media even awful advertising usually gets noticed. This is because it's often big, loud, annoying and relentless. Online, even the rare excellent ad gets ignored. This is because it's small, quiet, and interactive -- and consumers are about a thousand times more likely to "interact" by clicking away from it than clicking in to it.

The unmistakable fact is that essentially nobody notices online advertising. As a rule, it gains no attention. Have there been some cases of online advertising attracting a lot of attention? Sure there have. But the likelihood of it happening is alarmingly remote.

The religion of precision targeting and one-to-one communication tries very hard to ignore the fact that online advertising has scandalously low impact. The science of how dreadful online ads are at attracting attention is available (a few examples here and here) but the science is mostly ignored because most marketers don't understand the difference between science and data.

The truth is most advertisers and most marketers don't really want to know the facts. They have already put a large stack of chips on online advertising. Fear of finding out (FOFO) that they have been wasting large sums of money on a medium that is corrupt, fraud-ridden, dangerous, and largely invisible keeps them in a state of nervous denial.

The proliferation of media types has made attracting attention a much more difficult task than it's ever been. And much more important. To a large degree, marketing communication has become a contest to garner attention.

Those who believe the primary objective of advertising is to engage an individual do not understand the first principle of advertising. Engaging an individual is the slow bus to nowhere. Advertising's first objective is to gain the attention of a lot of people.

If it doesn't, you'll never get to first base.

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