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Advertising Obituary
by Andy
October 19, 2009

My past business life was entirely devoted to the advertising industry.  I read all the advertising trade journals that I could — AdAge, AdWeek, Communication Arts, you name it.  I bought into the drama of a great ad and truly felt my industry was a cultural force that leveraged non-theater distribution channels.  We even had black-tie awards ceremonies subjectively based strictly on creativity.  Granted we also had Effy awards (based on marketing effectiveness), but they were not the cool, red carpet affairs that surrounded these other creativity events.

Back in the office, however, Siskel and Ebert did not judge our work.  Rather our clients patted us on the back when we won awards and allowed us to do more work while we continued to pontificate the critical importance of great advertising and an expanded media presence.  “Without such continued investment,” we would argue, “the brand would suffer and lose out to those that did.”  To support our cause, we would do lots of research and positioning exercises, competitive analyses, and more.  But all that smart work was poured only into advertising and other awareness-oriented programs.

Then we did lunch.

Alas, times have changed.  Marketing has gotten more sophisticated.  Ad agencies no longer control the brand.  Media options have exploded.  TV ratings have plummeted.  Online capabilities have led to direct brand interaction, rather than passive presentation.  Sponsorships and events!  Marketing ROI is now a key component of any brand plan — as it should be.  So what was once an aggregated milieu of the ad agency has become a disaggregated free-for-all.  Yes, marketers would prefer their agency be one-stop in their capabilities, but ‘jacks of all trades’ lead to ‘masters of nothing’ — and that leads to inefficient spend and poor synergy.


The problem is a legacy mindset.  Advertising solves for awareness.  Marketing is primarily linked to advertising.  So going back to basic algebra, marketing = awareness.  For brand launches or products requiring little consideration or cost (i.e., soda), this dynamic is critical.  The vast majority of us, however, play in a very different world.  It’s a B2B world where sex appeal is limited.  Here, the players are already known and the decision process is complex and long.  Awareness does not apply.  Here, it’s relevancy that matters.  Just like certain employees, some matter more than others.  Those who matter wield more influence than those who do not.  Unless your firm is relevant you do not matter.

Yet, legacy mindsets and infrastructures are very hard to change and adapt.  In some cases, rightfully so.  In others, it’s just sad.  Like the advertising trade journals.  I see their attempts to mean more than their advertising title.  They seem to know much about lots of things.  Yet because of the titles, I believe most read them with a fond memory of times gone by.  Of old relationships that used to cheer me up.  Like fallen friends.


One Response to “Advertising Obituary”

  1. Well spoken! I’m sorry for your loss, although I do see the re-birth of advertising coming soon…just not sure yet what shape or form it will take….and more importantly, when!

    As you point out, mindsets are difficult to change. Not only within the corporate agencies, but also within the job itself. When it comes to social marketing (like childhood obesity), we’re trying to create behavior changes, not just awareness. The challenges are enormous. And when it comes time to do the research to show that the marketing is effective, that challenge almost seems insurmountable. After all, it’s not like a soda product where you can simply point to an increase in sales.

    In the words of Bob Dylan, “the times, they are a-changing.” And maybe, it’s about time…

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