When Advertising No Longer Works
"Social media for instance has taken over our lives in many respects. This extreme has now started to work in reverse because social media has now become “anti-social”."
“All systems when pushed to extremes begin to operate in reverse.”
McLuhan was probably the greatest media ecologist that ever lived. He understood media and technology from its essence. This means that he understood it on a level beyond any particular technology. I think we often are getting lost in the marketing and media weeds at the expense of understanding fundamentals. That is why McLuhan is still relevant today. He brings us back to an elementary understanding of our media ecosystem, regardless of all the changes.
Who can deny that the changes we are experiencing in advertising are happening at a dizzying pace. As a marketer, keeping up with new devices, new techniques, more data and every new company promising riches can be confusing and often frustrating.
Social media for instance has taken over our lives in many respects. This extreme has now started to work in reverse because social media has now become “anti-social”. I was at a park on a beautiful fall day and saw 3 teenage girls sitting in what could loosely be termed as a circle. Were they speaking with each other? Nope. They were all staring at their smart phones and texting. Real social connection was replaced with some odd form of connection. This is social connection working in reverse.
It is my belief that advertising in general has reached a point where it is working in reverse. Advertising is not just becoming ineffective, it is becoming toxic. The number of advertising messages an average person is subjected to has increased over time. The marketing research firm Yankelovich is the most quoted source for answering just how many. They postulated that the number of ad messages increased from 2000 per day in the late 1970s to 5000/day in 2007. (1) Some research puts the tally over 10,000 advertising messages per day.
The online media ecosystem has increased ad messages at an ever increasing pace. This is just one reason why advertising effectiveness in terms of click thru rates is almost at statistical zero. But I am actually suggesting it is worse than we think. Young people actually are repulsed by our advertising messages.
In one study of SMS advertising (2), the unsurprising conclusion was that if consumers have a negative attitude toward the advertising medium in general, they will have negative perceptions of the advertising itself. Seems rather obvious, but I hear McLuhan laughing in his grave.
So what is to be done?
I believe the answer is right before our eyes. But it takes a bit of a shift in perception. I realize that not everybody reading will buy into the notion that advertising has become toxic. In this camp will be the “relevancy mongers”, the “big data” whores and every purveyor of the latest, greatest technology.
But those of us who spend our own money in pursuit of solving the marketing economic equation do not have the luxury of remaining blind to the Truth.
If advertising is becoming toxic to a growing number of consumers, this means that ad messages are no longer a great way to direct attention. In online terms, ad messages are no longer a great carrier wave for brands or marketers. So we at PulseTV have shifted our focus from advertising messages delivering visitors to using content to deliver consumers to our ecommerce website.
What does this mean? Here an example might be in order. We place text links or thumb nails of videos on websites. An example might be; The History of the Muppets on video. If someone wishes to watch a short video clip on the history of the Muppets, they click on the link or thumbnail to watch it.
Upon clicking, the audience is transported to our PulseTV website to view the video, without a pre-roll commercial to view the video clip. The video player is surrounded by whatever offer we are selling for that day. Content delivers the audience and not an advertising message. Content is the “bait” not an ad message.
Content is not toxic because it is largely self selecting. I also want to distinguish real content from the pseudo content of ad dressed up as content. The history of the Muppets is distinctly different from some bastardized form of content that an agency dreams up for a brand.
Does this approach work? The short answer is “yes” although we created a company to sell this solution to marketers and failed miserably. We stopped trying to sell this solution and concentrated on executing it for our own e-commerce division at PulseTV . We continue to try all of the advertising solutions out there just in case might be missing something. But we spend most of our time using content to deliver audiences/consumers to our website.
It is also a fact that I spend my time oscillating between trying to understand our online ecosystem and experiencing it. That leaves us with another great quote from McLuhan to end this missive:
“Everybody experiences far more than he understands. Yet it is experience, rather than understanding, that influences behavior.”