Advertising is Not Dead - Yet. But it is on Life Support

Advertising is the Price You Pay for Being Unremarkable (Jeff Bezos)

I used to get really irritated by advertising and promotion in all forms, whether interrupting TV or radio programmes, dead trees in the form of brochures and pamphlets arriving in my snail-mail box, or destroying what’s left of our beautiful countryside with massive billboards the size of a small skyscraper. The “good” thing about these forms of advertising and promotion was that it was relatively easy to ignore them or escape from them, and some were even mildly entertaining.

But right now I am beyond angry, beside myself with rage, and I’m on the warpath. (I think I suffer what psychologists are now calling “intermittent explosive disorder.”) The cause of my fury is the inescapable advertising, sales and promotion activity that has come about because of the internet and smartphones. Like many readers, I am bombarded by about 300 to 400 emails every day, I am interrupted by at least three unsolicited telephone calls every day, and I receive at least ten text messages every day from companies desperate to sell me something. Today you can’t even take a pee without looking at an advert!

What sparked my rage this time was a young man who conned me into agreeing to a home invasion with my family at dinner time. It turned out that he was a gas braai salesman, and he launched into his script without really listening to what braaing means to us. I love the ritual of collecting small twigs and dry wood from our garden with my sons. Then we pile all of these on top of some crunched up newspaper, light it, and then blow hard to get everything going. We test for the correct temperature every few minutes using the five second rule, (if you can hold your hand over the grill for five seconds then the coals are ready.) And we have this special time as a family just being together that no money can buy.

It’s not about the “convenience” of turning on a switch and throwing on some meat, and I certainly won’t be paying R12000 for the deluxe version that he wanted to sell me – but he didn’t care as he steamrollered on with his presentation.

So what used to be a gentle and friendly human being has turned into a rude and grumpy monster, and then I feel guilty because I took it out on a helpless employee just trying to make a living in the salt mines of business today. Their managers should be sent to
the middle of the Sahara desert and isolated from all humanity.

Usually, I don’t know who you are, I don’t know your company, I don’t know your products, I don’t know what you stand for, I don’t know your record, and I don’t know your company’s reputation. I don’t know what benefits I will get from your company, and I don’t know what makes you unique, distinct or special. You don’t know anything about me: who I am, what I need, want, desire, dream about, fear, have headaches about nor my problems. You have no idea about what I value, what I stand for, nor what’s important in my life.

Now – what was that you wanted to sell me? The bottom line is that I will never, ever, buy anything from someone who interrupts my day like this – even if I desperately need what is on offer.

Advertising and the traditional marketing shortcuts just don’t work anymore. There’s a marketing crisis that all the money in the world just won’t solve. And yet we persist in irritating customers with these things. Advertising follows us wherever we are, in vast quantities, and we cannot seem to escape. I have become so desperate that I am migrating my most important connections to a new email address, and will even consider changing my cellphone number. My most desperate desire is to become anonymous.

Consider these facts:

  • David Ogilvie, one of the founders of the modern advertising industry, wrote: “We know that only 50% of all advertising works. The problem is, we don’t know which 50%.” But that was then. Right now, that figure of what works is around 10%.
  • Traditionally, advertising strategies run on the lines of “Tell us what you need and want, and we’ll tell you that we’ve got it.”
  • Mass advertising usually displays no real evidence that it works, is not easily tested or measured, is unpredictable, enormously expensive, and more often than not is used to generate fear amongst competitors or improve morale of employees/
  • There are too many brands and companies – and too few customers
  • There are so many more media that it’s impossible to reach your target audience with just one partner.

Marketers and sales people barge into our lives with unannounced interruptions, using as many media and methods as possible, and hoping that the message will be noticed in all the other clutter. There is little or no chance of interaction with your customers.

And therein lies the answer. Word of mouth trumps advertising – always, always, always! (Especially in the social media.) An entertaining viral video can be watched by millions. A great unique and distinctive product offered with brilliant service will sell itself without any need for advertising and promotion. And if you want to connect with new customers, your best bet is to use the power of referrals and recommendations.

That’s where you should spend your money – and you’ll probably get a much better return for your investment. Oh, and you will probably stop irritating your clients and prospects.


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