What Is the Value of Advertising?

I read with some amusement as well as concern this article about an apparently still ongoing and massive online advertising fraud.  I imagine you’re all aware of it.  Meanwhile, back in this article, I mentioned the increasing use of ad blockers, especially by millennials.  And within the last week or so, I questioned, as I pointed you to four article on changes in retail, how TV advertising was being received.  What I said was, “Perhaps it explains some of the advertising I see on TV these days where a brand tries so hard to find a compromise message that reaches the sensibilities of more than one group that you walk away not sure what product you just saw advertised or why you should care.”

Personally, I experience advertising, in any form and at any time, as an inconvenience and annoyance.  I think that’s because when I want to buy something, I seek out the information I want- no more, no less, and not until I need it.  The ability to get just the information I want, when I want it, and in the amount I want makes advertising superfluous to me in terms of my purchase decision because the information can almost never be what I want when I want it.

Am I typical?  Certainly I’m not our industry’s typical target customer, though I don’t think my perspective is unusual.  But if I were, then there would be no reason to advertise to me except to build brand recognition.  Theoretically, that increases my propensity to purchase your brand.  Theoretically, that is.  I prefer to think it doesn’t, but we all like to believe we’re not influenced by various external stimuli.  And, at some level, we’re all wrong.

We all acknowledge the trend away from print advertising, though I confess to not having the numbers that demonstrate the extent at my fingertips.  Fundamentally, I’m not sure there’s much of a difference between print and online advertising, except of course online is, well, online.  The only question online advertisers (most of you) should be asking is whether the hopefully targeted nature of online ads improves their effectiveness.  They are still just ads.

I recently had a terrible experience with an online seller and then found myself inundated on some web sites with ads from that seller which, I think it’s safe to say, are unlikely to result in my buying from them.  I turned on the adblocker on those sites.

There seems to be a sense of almost desperation out there, as advertisers (ad agencies especially I imagine) try to figure out how to reach potential customers in a way that is sticky and doesn’t annoy them and somehow provides something that will be perceived as value.

This desperation, as you’ve noticed, means there are ads everywhere and all the time.  The advertising breaks on TV are so long now you can go to the market and come back before they end.  There’s an ad on the inside of my locker where I work out.  Shopping cart and movie theater ads aren’t new.  The advertising in the urinal at a trade show amused me (though I can’t remember the brand) but did bring home to me how ubiquitous ads have become.  I haven’t seen any on toilet paper yet, though I guess as a brand, that might not be the way you want your customer to think of using you.

Oh- I recently put the ad blocker on my cell phone too.

I know there are some brands and retailers reading this (I hope) thinking how wrong I am because their advertising works for them and they can prove it.  I am sure there are and good for them.  But as a group, I worry we’re kind of eating our young.  Are we doing more of the same because we don’t quite know what else to do and expecting a different result?

It’s not just that we don’t know what else to do.  It’s that we’re scared to do it, or at least that old habits are hard to change.  Back in the ancient days of big computers, it was never a mistake to recommend IBM because you couldn’t get fired for that even if it wasn’t the best choice.  Today, and forever by the way, stock market analysts don’t tend to make recommendations or prediction that are much different from other analysts because doing so can cost you your job if you’re way worse than others.  That’s one the reasons I don’t pay any attention to them.

Are we trying to give our customers more and more of something they don’t want in whatever form?

That’s really the key question and globally, I’m becoming convinced the answer is yes.  If you believe that’s true, then the uncomfortable answer is to stop all or most traditional advertising- print and online.

It’s interesting, isn’t it, that I just called online advertising “traditional.”

Maybe you shouldn’t be wasting a single cent on advertising.  Maybe we’re to the point where you can completely rely on your customers and social media to lead you, since trying to lead them with advertising is not as effective as it used to be.  In some cases, it has a negative impact.

And now I’m wondering what I mean, exactly, by social media.  Kind of like I wondered what omni-channel meant.  Then I realized it was the word that retailers stuck with legacy brick and mortar came up with to make it sound like they had it all under control.

My first take is that “social media” can’t just be the bunch of web sites you’ve switched your advertising and promotional efforts to.  It seems to me to imply:

  1. An increase in the speed of communication.
  2. A growing inability to lead your customers.
  3. A new form of consensus building.
  4. Amorphous and rapidly changing communities.
  5. Differences in how a brand builds credibility, and difficulties keeping it.

I think the list is longer than this.  I’d love to hear your additions.  My point is that being successful with social media is about how you address these issues- not just having web site/social media presence.  Product line development used to focus way too much on what your competitors were doing- that was way easier than figuring out what the customers wanted.  Don’t make a similar mistake with your approach to social media.

So, what if you cut out all your print advertising?  Some small, new brands, mostly for financial reasons, are making do, if you want to call it that, with no print advertising.  Yet for more established brands, and depending on your distribution, that might be a hard thing to do.  Some of your customers might not react well and, like the guy who recommended IBM, it’s hard to get in trouble for doing what everybody else is doing.

Still, that’s a lot of money to drop to the bottom line.  And if you’ve got a lot of customers who think about advertising and making buying decisions the way I do, and you address the five social media ideas I’ve listed above (along with others I haven’t thought of no doubt) you just might be able to manage it.