I am by no means the first person to quote this old chestnut about advertising waste and I am sure I will not be the last. But it came to mind when I read a study by Booz &Co and Procter and Gamble on the subject of how 'whole new marketing systems must be built to accommodate the new media and the dramatic shifts in the industry'. The survey pointed out that in the US the shift from traditional television and press advertising to online and other digital platforms is 'shocking' and that both online and mobile phone advertising held up well during the recession in contrast to traditional media.
The 'model in the mind' of how advertising works that is behind this study needs to be examined: it is direct response. Target the exact person, shoot them the message privately and watch the sales roll in. Super efficient, no wastage.
This is a genuinely dangerous model, or perhaps more accurately, only a partial model. It is certainly not a model to use as the sole basis of redefining the industry. Take any high end product as the most obvious example of what's wrong with it – Rolex, for instance. I am not the target for Rolex advertising. A man in my life may well be. How do I know why this is the brand he most longs for and what pleasure it would give him to receive one from me and what pleasure I would get from knowing that I got it right?
At a less lofty level, all brands – from lagers to baby foods to cars – operate in the same way. The images and beliefs we form in our minds about brands have immeasurable utility, whether that is brands that we may not buy now but will, may buy for others as gifts, buy as individuals making a statement of personal taste or buy because we trust them to be safe.
Brand choices are part of the clues that define people in their own eyes and in the eyes of others. Brands are publicly shared aspects of culture. Their power derives from the shared public-ness of their various meanings. And this comes most vividly from traditional advertising imagery. All this emotional power is lost when we go private.
Consumers would appear to know this. Doubtful, as I am, of what people say about their behaviour or their judgements on the effectiveness of different media, the findings from a recent Deloitte study confirm my view. Asked to rank various types of advertising by their impact, 56% say television, 37% say press and online ranks about 1%.
Redefining the industry based on the ubiquity of online advertising isn't going forward at all. It's going backwards: straight back to the origins of mass communication which was the advertisement as door to door salesman. It has taken 60 years to develop the understanding of the power of emotional meanings and values that brands carry. Why throw that away?