Advertising is on life support
I’m sure a lot of you immediately rolled your eyes when you saw this headline. After all, advertising as a practice isn’t dead just yet and, in reality, it isn’t going away anytime soon. Advertising is a fundamental part of how brands communicate with customers. So, to say that advertising is on its last legs might seem like a stretch. Allow me to explain why there’s some truth to it.
Advertising still has a certain amount of sexiness to it. Many of us still hold onto a “Madmen”-induced nostalgia for advertising — and, for those of us who were a part of the world of advertising before the digital revolution officially took hold, those memories are not easily forgotten.
Unfortunately, those days are long gone. That was a time when the entire advertising ecosystem was linear: A client created a brief; the agency developed rounds of concepts (until a campaign idea was chosen); the agency fleshed out the concept across deliverables; and then those assets were placed into purchased media channels so that a brand’s marketing message could get in front of consumers and encourage them to take a specific action. Next campaign comes along. Rinse and repeat.
While that may be a simplistic view of the advertising world of yore, it illustrates a fairly important point: That’s not how advertising works today.
Not only have the media channels that brands use today to connect with customers changed dramatically — and are constantly in a frenzied state of flux — but consumers themselves have changed a whole lot, too.
And guess what? Consumers are today’s change agents. The proof of this is in how they engage with and adapt to the ever-changing digital media landscape. This alone has dramatically changed their overall view of advertising, especially among digital natives.
In fact, according to a Harris Poll study commissioned by our company, 74 percent of millennials have said they are tired of brands “shouting at them” on social media, responding to the growing presence of social ads in practically every social feed today.
There’s another side of this coin that’s worth mentioning: Consumers are becoming a lot savvier at ignoring or completely blocking ads altogether. In more traditional advertising channels — think TV and radio — the rise of on-demand digital video and streaming music services, sometimes offering ad-free subscriptions for a premium price, has made it easy for consumers to almost entirely bypass major media networks that are heavily reliant on advertising revenue.
The truth is, if you’re still relying on traditional media to do the heavy lifting for your brand, it’s time to rethink your strategy. You not only have to go where consumers spend most of their time now, but you also have to think one step ahead — in terms of both media and message.
Influencers, UGC and brand advocates
And honestly, that’s still the bare minimum. You have to think about advertising a lot more broadly these days. Social media is a great case for this. It has paved the way for a new kind of advertising (if you can even call it that): influencers.
People with massive followings now command a lot more authority, trust and sway over consumers than most brands. And even though some of these self-proclaimed influencers have about as much authority as your run-of-the-mill email scam, the reality is, if they like something — and create engaging social media content to share their likes with their followers — there’s a good chance their followers will do the same.
In fact, a single nod to a product or service they love or even a social movement they feel strongly about can send engagement skyrocketing instantly for a brand. It also can create a chain reaction of user-generated content (UGC) that can serve as free “advertising” and positive word-of-mouth. Great examples of this are the “Ice Bucket Challenge” and the hilarious “Black Mask Challenge.” (If you haven’t seen the latter, it’s worth watching!)
And whether you see this as “influencer marketing” or simply UGC, it really is an incarnation of advertising at its very core. It’s not the kind of content you necessarily “plan” as you would a more traditional advertising campaign, but its overall return, even when purely organic, can be tenfold.
You’ve got think of your loyal customers as your biggest advocates, with influencers coming in a very close second. Building relationships with these people, through social and other digital media, is practically table stakes today for brands. Stop polishing every word in your campaign brief and, instead, genuinely engage these valuable advocates to help tell your story — on your behalf.
Developing new forms of content
The other part — and this is a big one — is all about content. Now, we’ve started to find ourselves in that “chicken or the egg” scenario. Do we develop amazing content and then figure out where to place it? Or do we look at the available media channels — specifically where our target customers spend most of their time — and then build content around it? To be honest, it’s not one or the other; it’s both.
Much of today’s media landscape is dictated by technology. The challenge is that as technology rapidly evolves, it can be hard for brands — and even consumers — to keep up. Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), 360-degree cameras, drones, and even our mobile phones are changing the rules around how we create content.
Consumers want content that’s dynamic, engaging, immersive, interactive and more lifelike than ever before. Technology enables this. Now, it’s up to brands to harness the power of new technologies, take creative risks and develop new forms of content before they ever go mainstream.
By all means, run your tried-and-true ad campaigns. Just don’t be afraid to allocate resources to try new things, too.
And here’s why — as exhausting as technology’s rapid evolution can be, it’s also made measuring and optimizing for success much easier. We now know what works and what doesn’t, all in real time — and that’s valuable.
But it’s also one reason advertising has become so transactional. By having access to every detail of every campaign — with the utmost granularity — we now have the power to refine campaigns endlessly to reach our desired results. What would Don Draper think of that?
This all leads me right back to where we started: Advertising (as we once knew it) is on life support.
Advertising’s past was all about ideas and pursuing the “creative process.” Advertising today is much more focused on transactions and conversion, with a dash of customer experience thrown in for good measure. And thanks to technology, the changing media landscape, evolving consumer behaviors, data and so much more, “old school” advertising is now nothing but a distant memory.
Is that good or bad? That’s for you to judge. However, if you aren’t adapting your marketing efforts to thrive in today’s digital advertising landscape, I’m pretty certain your nearest competitor will — and reap all the benefits!