Traditional Advertising is Truly Dead

image of the pitch poster

Warning: If you’re addicted to spending ungodly amounts of money in an effort to interrupt enough people into becoming “aware” of your product, service, or idea … skip this. You ain’t gonna like it.

Mad Men. The Walking Dead. The Killing. AMC has created some of the best television of the last two decades. So, when I saw the trailer for their latest — The Pitch — I was pre-sold.

Two nights ago, I took the dog for a walk, grabbed a drink, and then settled in on my beloved blue couch to see if AMC could do it to me again.

The Pitch is a weekly docu-drama following two advertising agencies as they compete to win major business.

It’s a great show.

It’s also, in my opinion, a record of the death of traditional advertising.

May our dear cousin rest in peace.

The myth of creativity in selling

The pilot episode of The Pitch starts with a meeting wherein the potential client (Subway) briefs both agencies on what they’re looking for. It’s cool to see behind the curtain of this process, but the cool factor degrades rapidly as both agencies fly back to their offices to build their campaigns.

In between scenes of the “creatives” throwing “creative” ideas across their respective tables, we’re treated to insights from the advertisers such as …

We pride ourselves on creativity, not playing it safe, doing things that no one has ever seen before.

Huh? Speaking to an audience, and selling to them, is largely an exercise in having the wisdom to enter a conversation that’s already happening in the prospect’s mind. It’s using the language the audience is already using.

Creating things that “nobody has seen before” — aside from the hyperbole of that statement — could work well as ride in an amusement park, or a fireworks display, but it’s the kiss of death in the art of selling.

Here’s another gem from the “creatives” …

We ask clients to take risks, because we’ve taken risks.

Huh. I’m fairly certain that a client wants to sell their product, not “take risks.” And who cares if you’ve taken a risk? Really, who cares?

Copywriters are paid to communicate the benefits of owning a product, using a service, or exploring an idea. We are not paid to take risks, whatever that may mean.

I’m all in for creativity, and for art. I’ve given much of my life to the serious pursuit of it, but when it comes to selling, creativity as it’s being tossed around by these agency types is more a hindrance than a help.

Back when we were all watching three channels on the television, a Clio award-winning spectacle stuffed in between scenes of The Dukes of Hazzard might have captured our attention, but only because that’s all that was on.

And even then, in the words of the man:

If it doesn’t sell, it isn’t creative. ~ David Ogilvy

The game has not changed, it’s been obliterated

Speaking recently about the end of the television/industrial complex, Seth Godin uttered:

… the model [was] very simple. You run $100 in tv ads, you made $110 in profit. And this was true for 35 years. Mad Men was not about good ads, it turns out if you just ran a lot of ads — of any kind — they made more money than they cost. And just in the last few years, it all fell apart … the underpinning of our entire economy went away.

If you’re throwing brand advertising at the masses and hoping something will stick, you’re playing a game that’s already over. Consumers have taken their ball and gone home.

Sure, multinational companies are still swinging for fences that are no longer there, but they have the millions to blow on creative ad campaigns, for now. And spending millions feels good. Seeing your billboard downtown, or your commercial on television seems like a strategic win. At least you’re doing something, right?

Our concern is the message this sends to small and medium sized businesses. Maybe you’re looking at these tactics, and sensing that money thrown at media is the only way to reach your prospects.

It’s not.

The irony of Jared

Through my frustration of watching this episode of The Pitch, I couldn’t help but think about Jared Fogle.

Yes, good old Jared, the guy who told us — over and over — a compelling story of how he lost so much weight, simply by eating at Subway.

Now that was a story that sold.

During the duration of the Jared campaign, Subway sales more than doubled to $8.2 billion. Following Jared’s brief departure as Subway spokesman in 2005, sales immediately dropped 10 percent, prompting Subway to quickly bring him back.

As much as is possible in the 30 second format, it embodied many of the basic elements of good content marketing. It was useful. It was inspiring. It was educational. It was about benefits, not advertising awards.

Ironic that the company that spotted Jared’s killer story and ran with it for a decade now wants to play a game with “creatives” who figured being a starving artist didn’t sound so great.

Three steps to a successful approach

The equation used to be: money x media = business.

The new equation is: time x media = business.

In other words, every company is a media company.

What does this look like in the real world? Here are three steps to creating a “campaign” that will last:

  1. Build a minimum viable audience with useful, educational, and entertaining content.
  2. Listen carefully to their frustrations, fears, problems, and desires.
  3. Create or adapt products and services that better serve them.

This is a very simple strategy that can be very difficult to execute. But it’s absolutely worth it.

If you had enough money, the good old days of brand advertising were truly good, like shooting fish in a barrel. Those days (and that world) are long gone, but the opportunities of the world we now live in dwarf the past.

One more time from Mr. Godin …

When I was coming up, the thought that I could have a million (or more) people hearing what I had to say was insane. But now, anyone who wants to — and is willing to put in the years, and get some lucky breaks — can do so.

The beauty, of course, is that most companies have no of need a million-person audience. Depending on your business, a mere fraction of that number will keep you busy for as many years as you’d like. The only real question is, what will you do now?

About the Author: Robert Bruce is Copyblogger Media’s Chief Copywriter and Resident Recluse.

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  1. Excellent post Robert.

    I love what Roy H. Williams – of Wizard of Ads – teaches.
    Impact * Repetition = Memorability.

    Up until a few years back – every one focused mainly on repetition. Run an ad repeatedly on TV or radio and newspapers. And win space in people’s minds.

    But people are bombarded with so many messages every day now that they’ve put on blinders. You have to focus on the impact factor. You have to make your message more relevant. Otherwise, they will ignore you.

    And the best way to make sure your message is more relevant is doing what you recommend: “Listen” carefully to their frustrations, fears, problems, and desires.

    • “You have to make your message more relevant. Otherwise, they will ignore you.”

      You make a great point Ankesh. There is so much content/messages floating around these days that customers have learned to tune it all out. Being creative isn’t enough to stand out, you have to have the right message at the right time.

    • Agreed. “Relevant” doesn’t mean a lot of dancing around and cheesy pseudo-entertainment. It means actually focusing on the customer and what she cares about.

  2. Robert,

    People treat brand advertising like a drug. They want to experience the “high” of how the really “cool and beautiful” ad makes them feel.
    They get hooked to the feeling and for a short while it makes a small or medium business feel like they are a big company like Coca-Cola.

    However, reality settles in and they realize that their “high” is gone and bills are still piling up because no one bought their product or service.

    The public hates ads probably as much as they hate spam in their inbox.
    That’s why so many people own a TIVO of DVR and fast forward through the commercials.

    I love how you say, “The beauty, of course, is that most companies have no of need a million-person audience. ”
    When people get online they think they need to have millions of people visiting their site in order to sell, when the reality is that all they need is at least 500 engaged fans to get started.
    Imagine an offline store owner who gets 500 visitors a day…they’d love that.

    Connecting with people is where it’s at…not blatantly spamming them with in your face ads.

  3. Robert,

    Loved this post times a thousand. Just simply as a consumer, I think about how little the “creative” advertisements I see affect my purchases. What really affects me is if a friend of mine recommends a product, or if I can verify apart from what the company is screaming at me that their product works. I’m shocked at how many businesses still throw money at the feet of ad agencies to create these obnoxious commercials.

  4. Save the creativity for how you build the audience. How you sell the product is the traditional stuff.

  5. Based on that episode how would those three steps apply to Subway? If they came to you Robert what would you pitch them?

    • Hey Daryle,

      They wouldn’t come to us, and we don’t pitch.

      But for the sake of your hypothetical, A massive company like Subway is in the perfect position to build multiple (long-run) assets that they own, and that serve their customers, and sell their products.

      I’m not working on Subway, so details are pointless, but smart small businesses acting as media companies are doing it online all day, every day.

    • I know what I’d pitch them. I was so disappointed in the results from those 2 “big ad agencies” that I launched a tumblr blog after the first show aired and by noon the next day had a pitch at least equivalent to, if not better than, what it took two teams to come up with. Zambies and white rappers? Really?

  6. Robert,
    What a great article! I would like to add that for good content to become a sales tool (which after all is the whole point right?) it really needs to be coupled with an automated sales or lead collection process. Good content attracts, informs, educates, and influences, but if you can’t convert a visitor or reader to a lead, and a lead into a sale, its like giving a great speech to an empty room. I have a client who was doing PPC ads. He had a blog, had some social media, but no conversion pages, no downloadable guides, and no forms beyond a contact us page, and was converting one lead a month. Contact us pages are great for ready to purchase visitors but if you want to continue to engage, educate and influence you need to continue the conversation beyond the initial content which drew them in. This is the benefit content marketing brings that traditional advertizing could never dream of doing. We added a simple downloadable guide based on his subject matter, put it behind a short lead form and suddenly those PPC hits became real lead conversions and very quickly became sales. In fact it lead to 18 such lead to sales conversions in the first month worth over $72,000 to this small local contractor.
    If a traditional commercial could have collected information from each viewer, it would still be alive and kicking today. The web has given us the gift of two way communication with our audience. And that is why we can get away with a smaller audience. We can actually identify and talk to these people but it starts with lead collection. We need a name an e-mail and possibly a phone number, then we can continue to target those prospects with the information they are looking to receive.

  7. This doesn’t sound like the death of traditional advertising, but rather the resurgence of truly traditional, pure advertising. I’m referring to the brand of advertising pioneered and perfected by Claude Hopkins, John Caples, David Ogilvy, Gary Halbert, and John Carlton among others.

    This sounds more like the “pulling down of the curtain” on fairy tale advertising – the kind that wins awards instead of making sales, the kind that isn’t tested.

    This isn’t a funeral, it’s a resurrection. Salespeople, rejoice!

  8. Social media and the development of niche markets have changed the game. So call mass advertising, no longer works because people are no longer a passive audience. Engagement is necessary to capture and hold attention of prospects. The internet offers the capability for anyone anywhere to find virtually anything. There is a new dynamic in play where consumerism and personalization form a new advertising culture which discards slogans and hype. People today are looking beyond creativity to substance. Form, function and coolness are a package deal which speak to lifestyle ie: Apple, Mobile, Personal. Products that don’t speak to consumer in a language they hear or with a message they relate to will simply fail. In other words, we reached a point in time when the tail can no longer wag the dog.

  9. Thanks for the encouragement. As a small business owner, I do not have the money to waste on “traditional” advertising. Still, I understand that even if I have the best products and customer service in the world, if nobody knows about me, I will go broke. It is nice to be reminded, when I get discouraged, that with all the “free” advertising options that are available on the internet, that type of investment is no longer necessary. My problem is that my target market is Baby Boomers and it is my understanding that they respond better to emails than other Social Media. I need to figure out some way to build my email list legally, without spam.

  10. If traditional, big-bucks advertising is dying, what impact do you see that having on TV programs that rely on that kind of advertising to stay on the air?

    • Hi Jan,

      They’ve had a big problem for a long while. I mean, when people are building machines (Tivo) to bypass your revenue model… uh…

      I hope they figure it out. If studios and networks could all get into a room and do a deal, I’d pay over $100/mo. for a “Spotify for TV & Film”. Everything, right there streaming on the day of release? Home run. I get what I want, they get paid directly.

      But I don’t think that’s ever going to happen. I’d be very happy to be wrong about that though ;)

    • I don’t understand why television needs ads. HBO doesn’t have ads, Starz doesn’t have ads, Showtime doesn’t have ads. All 3 of those networks have much better content with consistently higher production values than networks like NBC, Fox, ABC, etc.
      The entire idea of TV networks is dying. The key is content creators. HBO creates content (or buys content that other create) and they’re smart enough to sell it to cable providers like Comcast, but are starting to see selling it as a subscription or one-off directly to customers is the future of video content.
      The problem with television is that they’ve been double dipping for too long. We pay to have the service, then we have to sit through commercials. That’s why I’ll never buy a magazine or newspaper subscription, because I’m paying twice.

      • I second that especially with DVRs these days. People tend to record and watch later, so they can skip the “fat” of the show and go straight to the “meat”.

        The only explanation I can think of is that they are aiming for low-middle class audiences who cannot afford cables or dish. It could mean that they are helping others while making money at the same time.

  11. Donald Draper is not dead yet.

    What have the great traditional ad campaigns done in the past? They speak to your gut, at that very basic level companies were able to reach the masses and influence their buying decisions. Volkswagen’s “Think Small,” is something that comes to mind as an idea that could be translated to content/inbound marketing even though it was traditionally a multi-million dollar campaign with virtually no copy at all.

    A great ad when written on a restaurant napkin is still a great ad. We, as content/inbound marketers can still “swing for the fences” with our ideas…it’s simply the delivery mechanism that has changed. Please don’t turn content marketing into a dry boring discipline for the rest of us.

    • Hi Mike,

      I think you’ve missed the point. To rephrase Mr. Ogilvy above, only true creativity sells. Dry, boring content marketing will do more harm to your goals than doing nothing.

      And you can still swing for the fences, as long as your audience is hanging around those fences.

      Anything else is just arrogance and self-aggrandizement.

  12. I agree with a lot said here.
    But It’s funny. “Traditional Advertising” i have no idea what that is. Because Advertising has been evolving since the beginning. It was never the same. This article explains “personal+consumer”. But You will always need one BIG idea from the creative to make things rolling. It’s all about having a great concept. And telling a story. And spread it everywhere. The Jared story was advertising. And some other story will be as well.

    Why?
    Stories and creative concepts can move people. They can get your Attention, create Interest make you desire the product. It’s just like warfare. You want William Wallace (the brand) to tell everyone on the battlefield they need to fight for freedom. United. And you need him to be personal to be loved.

    “Traditional” is going nowhere Robert Bruce. It’s just evolving.

    • Thanks Muamer,

      I don’t necessarily disagree. Except maybe in the sense that the “big idea” lives in the company, the product, the service itself — not usually in a “campaign”.

      If a product is undeniably good, you don’t need “zAMbies” or rappers, you need to join the conversation that already in progress.

      • Thank you for taking the time to Reply to my comment Robert.
        And i just realized that Robert The Bruce and William Wallace lived in the same Era. :)

        “If a product is undeniably good, you don’t need “zAMbies” or rappers, you need to join the conversation that already in progress.”

        Here is a little story i tell my students:

        You are in a desert and you are dying from thirst. Three men on camels approach you.
        Each carrying water. All three men have the best tasting water, but the prices are slightly different. One man looks poor, the other rich, and third just plain. They all want you to buy their water.

        You only have enough money to buy one bottle.
        Witch one do you chose.

        1. Cheap water
        2. Expensive water
        3. Water from the Rich guy
        4. Poor guy
        5. Plain guy

        You will buy water from the one that you like best. Be it his looks, the sound of his voice, the shape of his bottle. These things will make you desire to be a part of what he sells. The idea is that his Water will taste better.

        I don’t know if i said this right i was kinda writing in a hurry here. But i hope it makes sense. Advertising to me is spending lots of money on really wrong stories and campaigns. But that is the problem with them having stupid ideas that move no one. Not the Advertising industry as a whole. But not all people want to be moved, not all people want to have a conversation. Many don’t care. Giant campaigns are meant to talk to the masses and enchant them.

        Just like men in the desert.

        Thank you.
        p.s. I am on G+ http://bit.ly/JO0FKS if anyone wants to connect and talk marketing.

        • Good points.

          Unless I’ve mistaken your intent, your story — though in a compressed scene — gets down to the basic principles of “Know, Like and Trust.” That is precisely what good content marketing builds over time.

          And yes, I personally use the word “conversation” generally, not literally. Those who know me around here know I barely get into the comments at all…

  13. One of your best. You have hit the nail on the head.

    It’s too bad most companies don’t get it.

  14. Digital is now the highest for of interruption advertising. Try reading, for example, USA Today online and see how many annoying interruptions you get. Besides, click-through rates are abysmal.

  15. Exactly. My New Year’s Revolution was to not listen to advertising. I mute the tv everytime they come on. Everyone thought I was crazy at first but now my 5 year old does it too, even if I’m not in the room! I throw circulars in the trash next to the front door. And I use one of those ad blocker plugins on my computer.

    Seriously it’s about connecting. Talk to me, don’t scream AT me.

  16. Good read. Working in the “industry” there is still some value to traditional advertising in getting brand recognition. It’s making folks aware that you actually exist – and that takes money. So, in that sense, advertising is here to stay. But, it does need to serve the customer better – and I think we are seeing more of that today.

  17. Brian,

    Not a criticism of your other work but this is one of the best articles you’ve written in a while… I had so many similar thoughts watching that show. As a believer in Content Marketing and it’s power it amazes me that The Pitch is advertising medium that AMC chose to run with.

    Very good stuff and Seth Godin kills it!

    Thanks

    Ryan H.

  18. Yasmin Rodriguez :

    Freaky… I just got an article published about this same subject, albeit mine is in Spanish. In my article, I expand on the idea of how brands need to engage their customers in a new kind of intimate, one-on-one conversation, and talk about the death of the traditional wide-market arena.

    In my corner of the world, corporate CEO’s are still dreaming about the glory of media’s past. Believe it or not, Social Media and the idea of using a website as an information hub are still new concepts around here. Blogging as an advertisement opportunity? That’s crazy talk!

    I guess you can feel my pain. It is good, if you think about it as totally uncharted territory. However, it’s not so nice to have it all for grabs when the grabbing gets so tough!

    I’m certainly re-posting this one, and emailing it, and will try cramming it down some people’s throats… Thank’s for the validation!

    • Heather Steele :

      Yasmin – I feel your pain, working in B2B industrial marketing is much like you described. Convincing manufacturers and their distributors that ad space in a trade publication, directory listings, and online ads don’t generate leads can be quite frustrating.

      I’ve been fortunate that the companies I work directly with are starting to get it and are embracing the educational content route to generating leads. The tough part is always bursting that bubble and shattering the dream of guaranteed ROI on advertising. Fortunately the break down on costs of content marketing versus traditional advertising usually wins the battle – and when qualified leads start rolling in there is really no longer an argument to make.

  19. Amen.
    Here’s the thing: people put up with the videos we make. They don’t “want to watch a video” there aren’t “channels there.” We have to deliver information in the most sensible, respectful way. possible.
    We are tolerated as producers of the films we make. The second we forget that is when we are vulnerable to being killed by the next medium.

  20. The Jared story was marketed with traditional interruption marketing and rude ad buys. How did it work? Maybe traditional marketing is an evolving word with an ever changing definition.

    • It worked because it focused on persuasive elements — benefits of eating Subway over other fast food, and a powerful sense of identification with Jared as the “hero” who made a challenging journey from obese to thin, with Subway as his “mentor.”

      Classic mythical storytelling. Paging Joseph Campbell for content marketing advice! ;)

      • Joseph Campbell is the best! :)

        I love the thought of giving a prospect a “quest” to “find their bliss” – would LOVE a “Joseph Campbell Guide to Content Marketing” (although the Eminem and Dr Who articles are swell too!) Matter of fact that even sounds like a good theme for an email sequence (would fit my jewelry business well)

        One of my biggest goals is to become good at storytelling marketing – I have a lot of practice to go. Thanks for the idea!

    • Sometimes we talk about “interruption” like it’s a sin. It’s not a sin. It’s annoying and bad manners if you interrupt with something lame and worthless.

      The best interruption is so valuable that it doesn’t feel like an interruption. :)

  21. Excellent post Robert!

    Your point about Jared is a good one. He told a story that highlighted the benefits for the consumer. Like you, I watched the episode of The Pitch. It seemed like Subway has learned nothing from Jared’s departure. Honestly it seemed like they were more concerned with entertaining, than selling.

    • I worry that big brands have seen the buzz around “content” and they think that means “silly entertainment with no relevance to the product or customer.”

      Well, ok, I don’t worry about it, I see it as an opportunity for smart small business to come in and eat their lunch. :)

  22. I read this article (whoops! post) a couple of times to make sure my traditional advertising brain understood the point. As you can already tell, I do not agree. First of all, to judge advertising (traditional or otherwise) by the standards of Madmen is no more valid than evaluating the practice of medicine by Grey’s Anatomy and when you throw in conflict-driven, hyper-dramatic reality TV–of the kind personified by The Pitch–you might as well be talking about another universe entirely. Secondly, the principles that underlie great advertising (unlike most schlock) transcend media. A good ad, whether it appears on TV, online, OOH or in print, must engage a real target, deliver a meaningful and unique consumer benefit and motivate a clear and measurable action. A great ad does all this in a way that tells a bigger truth–whether it’s a missile system or toilet tissue. Don’t confuse the novelty of “social media” with its alleged superiority. It is a medium like any other used to convey a marketer’s message in ways that fit its particular format. You can call it a conversation, but selling is selling. And if there’s no strategy behind your advertising–whatever the medium–it is a waste of the client’s money and the consumer’s time. The difference today is that an ad competes not only with other ads in its category but with all the other infotainment demanding attention. All messages (commercial and non) have to work much harder to break through the clutter of the airwaves or cyberspace. Your steps to “advertising that lasts” are not, I regret to say, new or improved. What’s new is how you re-frame what is basically the traditional creative brief–which has stood the test of time in creating advertising/marketing communications that touch hearts and open minds to new products, services, causes and ways to see the world.

    • Well said.

      Somehow, I feel that a lot of the people posting here still feel like “little brother” to tv and print advertising.

      • Thanks. I also feel that a lot of people posting here are fairly new to the business so this is all new and wonderful and therefore better.

      • Actually, we feel we’re kicking ass online, inventing multimillion dollar businesses out of nothing, and helping to evolve media, while the “pros” are floundering around like idiots or grasping dearly to the past. But only in the nicest sense.

    • You got it right the first time. It’s an article.

    • Thanks Susan.

      I agree that these steps are not new or improved, only forgotten. I’ll ask Mr. Ogilvy himself to make that point for me.

      The “difference today” is not a problem of magnified competition, but of a playing field — the field on which the game is actually played, that is — that has completely disappeared.

      Do not mistake me for a wild-eyed social media evangelist, I’m simply playing on the field that currently exists.

  23. Yesterday John Carlton opened the Gary Halbert scrapbook and told a couple great stories.

    Hidden within those stories was this gem:

    “It all comes down to fundamental salesmanship and street-level psychology… The fundamentals do the heavy lifting, always and forever.”

  24. Excellent post, Robert! You made some great points and so have many of the commenters. But I’d quibble with your central assertion that traditional, mass media advertising is “Dead.” If it’s dead, then it’s dead the same way e-mail and blogging have been pronounced dead, oh, about 20 some-odd times now.

    Yes, branding done badly IS a waste of money. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t do branding well, or that a properly run branding campaign on mass media won’t continue to bring results. The very Jared example you used would prove that point. And in terms of viewership/listenership, the best, verified numbers point to the fact that TIVO and spotify and all the rest have actually had a negligible impact on viewership, while live audiences for these “interruption advertising media” continue to grow.

    Don’t get me wrong, I am a HUGE proponent of smart content marketing. Always have been. But I currently do a lot of radio-based branding work for local businesses and know that I know that I know that that stuff is still working extremely well, right now, today. And I see no signs that its effectiveness is on the decline.

    To be fair, a lot of that work can be thought of as a radio-to-web strategy, where content marketing plays a big role, but I would never discount or dismiss the power of old-school, mass-media muscle, even if the traditional agencies that continue to use those media are growing ever more dysfunctional. The answer to that problem isn’t for businesses to dismiss the media, but to find themselves a better copywriter : )

    - Jeff

    • Except that you, Jeff, are a disciple of direct response, not the “creative” branding Robert complains of. Which is why I like you. ;)

    • Jeff – You took the words right out of my mouth! I don’t think the advertising as a medium is dead. But, I think the content of those ads needs to shift dramatically. As Sonia said in another comment, disruption is okay if it provides value.

      The competition for attention has never been more fierce, which is why good content marketing is so critical. And, I think good advertising combined with strong content marketing is a powerful combination.

  25. Jacoub Bondre :

    I thnk you’ve made the same mistake that previous prophets of advertising’s demise. Creative advertising is not dead or dying, but how it is delivered absolutely is.

    In an ad budget, the majority of money is spent on the media buy. To the author’s credit, the value proposition of million dollar media buys is decreasing. Rapidly. Spending 10 millions dollars for a 30 sec spot for the Superbowl, will often have a production budget in a couple of hundred thousand range. But 10% is average media cost to production cost.

    The opportunity social media and other modern communication provides is similar exposure for little to no media spending necessary.

    But just posting on facebook that your product is good, or on sale is not going to bring you the same success TV did 1960-2005.

    The understanding of the consumer, and the crafting of the message is still paramount when converting a consumer into your customer.

    Content( video, text, games, graphics, pictures and even social communication) still needs to be crafted and delivered in creative ways to impact your audience.

    The medium is the message, and the medium has changed, but don’t through baby out w the bath water. How we use the new medium will still need creative thinking.

  26. As someone who actually appears on the show…I couldn’t agree more. In both episodes so far I think the better idea has lost, but it lost because they presented their idea as a catch phrase / slogan and not an integrated solution. Solid post. And if I come out looking like a fool I’m blaming the editing.

  27. As usual, right on the money! Thanks for sharing!

  28. Traditional advertising is dead, it’s social media these days, connections and interesting ways to get your audiences attention, like the way Pepsi are going to be streaming concerts via twitter it will definitely make their brand more favourable.

  29. Perhaps you’re confusing the message with the messenger. Agreed! “Creativity” for the sake of creativity is hokum. Selling is and always has been about benefits and what’s in it for the customer. Duh! People are still moved to buy a product by the same thing they have been moved by for years: self interest. To say that traditional advertising is dead is not quite right. The stuff that passes today as “traditional advertising” might be dead, but traditional, traditional advertising is not. I have no clue how concepts such as rolling skating babies with a 3-second tag at the end could ever be considered as something that actually sells water.

    It’s about the message, not the medium that delivers it. Nor, is it about how much money was spent delivering it. That’s about ROI. “Conversations” and “engagement” and other social media buzzwords can be as much claptrap as “creative” TV commercials that don’t tout the benefits of a product or service.

    Let’s not confuse the message with the delivery system. TV still sells stuff (tons of it) but only if the message is right. Digital also works, again, if the message is right.

    -LB

  30. Jared was a story. We have several ads running in NZ where we know the characters and it is like a soap opera. You follow the story and maybe get the product on the way through.
    What I find interesting though is how the big companies are now moving so many millions of dollars to online promotion and stories. So much so that a set of stats the other day said that affording adwords in certain categories was getting impossible for the little business.
    The change started many years ago as media changed and new technology changed things but one thing I have noticed – online puts those ads in your face even more that the convectional media of 10 years ago And have you looked at the online magazines like the new monthly Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook one – big full page ads every second page.

  31. Greetings:

    Advertising is the communication arm of Marketing. Communication is, and always will be dependent on the mix of communication media available in any market. This availability is itself is entirely dependent on a.) the level of technological advancement of a market, and b.) the absorptive of the market vis-a-vis technological advances in the mass arena.

    What has been said in the main topic may be true of technologically advanced markets such as Europe, North America, and Australia-New Zealand.

    I would like to quote the example of Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and much of South Asia. This region, despite much progress lately, is still at the threshold of the Information Age. This region is also home to over one and half billion humans, who are also consumers.

    In this region, despite much progress in Information Technology, access to computers and Internet, AND the ability to fully integrate IT into daily lives is severely limited. It wouldn’t be off the mark to say that in this region there are “islands” of IT competencies surrounded by a vast ocean of means of communication now considered obsolete elsewhere. Radio, Television, printed Newspapers and Magazines are still the main gateways to information in this region.

    As long as this situation does not change, what is deemed “Traditional Advertising” will continue to flourish in this region.

  32. Great post although you have some very wrong ideas on creativity, there seems to be a prevailing misunderstanding about ‘creativity’

    A study that spanned two decades involving industry and academics has revealed that a creative approach is 11 times for effective and far less a risk

    The old way of advertising might be dead but creativity will still be as relevant in the new era as it was in the past.

    Check out the Case for Creativity by James Hurman

    • We’re very big on creativity. We’re just not big on advertising that’s cutesy-clever and “creative” (think air quotes) at the expense of communicating anything relevant to the customer.

      I agree that creativity is important to mitigate risk and come up with the smart solution. It’s tricky to get away with paint-by-numbers advertising in an era when it’s so easy to tune out.

  33. There’s a lot I would love to poke at in this post, but I’m just going to zero in on one thing:

    “Copywriters are paid to communicate the benefits of owning a product, using a service, or exploring an idea. We are not paid to take risks, whatever that may mean.”

    Maybe that’s how you look at your job, but it’s not how I look at mine. McCann said it best, advertising is “truth well told”. To tell the truth well is to tell a story that is engaging and fresh, and you can’t do that by reciting what people already know or just handing them a feature/benefit chart. No, you have push yourself, try something new, CREATE something. There is not a great sales person alive who closes by simply saying something like “buy it because of x, y and z”. He builds a story and dramatizes the benefits in a way that is meaningful and relevant to a prospect. To find out what works, he tries stuff and that means taking risks.

    By the way, what do you mean by “communicate the benefits of an idea”?

  34. First of all, you’ve made me want to stop everything I’m doing and go watch The Pitch. Another show about advertising, woo hoo!

    And your equation of time x media = business is spot on. It’s bad news for lazy people, but good news for anyone who has the guts to get out there.

  35. James Bruce :

    I find the whole “traditional advertising” argument a bit tired, self-serving and simplistic. It also ignores one basic truth – most people don’t really care (read “give a *$#!”) about you or your products. The challenge is to make them care and this usually involves entertaining them or moving them. This can be done in a variety of ways, one of which is storytelling (as demonstrated by the hero of your argument “the Jared Subway campaign” – largely put together by Chicago ad agency Hal Riney).
    Ironically, the benefit bashing that you propose is more akin to “traditional advertising” (i.e. Rosser Reeves style USP slanging) than most of the work coming out of good agencies today. Yes there is plenty of absolute crap coming out of agencies, but to throw the baby out with the bathwater really just reeks of someone with a strong agenda. There are crappy vendors in almost every industry.

    Here is a quick effective campaign that comes to mind for walkers crips in the UK.

    http://youtu.be/Gz11iLPuU8o

    While not my cup of tea, this “idea” managed to generate 3.2 millions pounds of free media, secure them distribution in one of the UKs biggest supermarket chains and boost sales by 15%. If you want more I’m happy to keep posting?
    The truth is that advertising agencies will be here forever. They will just evolve and adapt – like they did for radio, TV, the internet, mobile etc. And I just think you shouldn’t have to forecast their demise to feel good about what you do which, incidentally, is also valid.

  36. Ads in radio and on tv have taken many directions over the years. The standards to a successful ad have many factors that need to be touch upon. The need to capture your target client, and pull them out of a croud takes many factors to consider. Good research and ad fundamentals are key to the success of the ad. If you want to waste your money and get stuck with underperforming ads like: Name, Phone Number, and what you do… stick with the yellow pages. They are great for that, and as a special bonus they will put it next to 100 other phone numbers of your competition.

  37. I say advertisements have changed and we as publishers have to change with it. The money is still there but it is getting harder to find.

  38. I agree with almost everything in this post, except the headline. I think creativity was and is about problem solving, solving the client’s problem, and that’s how traditional advertising approached their work. It’s just that some agencies came to believe that the wow-factor in the creative executions was a goal in itself, probably because the agency culture prizes it so highly internally. They began creating ads to impress other advertising people. So if you can accept that creativity is a critical tool in problem solving, be it reflected in the creative, the media or strategy and positioning, then traditional advertising isn’t really dead, just finally growing up.

  39. This is something that we see all the time. We have small businesses that do mass mailings to generate business. We are in a new world and the old way of doing things are not works anymore.

  40. This is an amazing article. Mainly because with a few words proclaiming the death of traditional advertising, nearly everyone who commented has agreed with the writer.

    The Jared campaign mentioned in the article is an example of why advertising really is so effective (and continues to be, despite people’s perception that they are somehow immune to its effects).

    The article caters to the average person’s belief in their ability to ignore advertising messages, while it touts buzzwords of the day such as “good content.”

    Creativity in selling isn’t actually a myth. If done well, it is so smooth and persuasive, the recipient of the message barely notices they’re being pitched a product. This article is one example of a use of persuasive language, albeit mostly a rant against some pullouts from ad agency promotional copy.

    The truth of the matter is that companies typically look for a marketing agency who can come up with an idea that will freshen up a moribund brand, or at the least, grab attention in an ever noisier world. They actually really groove to language like “we take risks” even though they may ultimately not take any with their own campaign. You’re getting hung up on the persuasive language of persuasive language.

    As for the death of traditional advertising — only online marketers talk about this, and almost obsessively. It has the feel of someone who’s trying to convince themselves of something. All other segments of the advertising and marketing industry (those you pejoratively call “traditional”) know they are not only still in business, but are actually carving the path for the onliners.