Marketing is Dead! Long Live Marketing!

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So... Two things:

1) Thanks to Moe's (on Augusta Rd.) I was sick as a dog this weekend with food poisoning. Let me just say that it was a whole lot of fun.

On the plus side, I lost whatever weight I'd put on during the holidays, so I guess the last three days weren't a complete waste.

2) Because I am still trying to catch up with three whole days of web work, I'm going to be lame and post a piece I just wrote for Corante. (I'll be back to my true self tomorrow though.)

Here you go:

Is advertising really circling the drain or is the whole "advertising is dead" thing just a lot of noise? Whether the question is even relevant is itself up for discussion, but one thing we can all agree on is that whether ad agencies want to admit it or not, their world is changing fast... and the relevance of traditional advertising is losing some steam. This is the topic of David Wolfe's latest post. Here's a taste:

"After the poor showing of advertising sales for this year’s Super Bowl and the collective yawn of Americans’ over the Winter Olympics, Al Ries may have it more right than Madison Avenue yet has the insight or courage or both to admit. Great brands are being created with little or no advertising. Starbucks is one such. Ries lists others in the aforementioned interview."

David points us to Al Ries' piece in PR Intelligence Report (PR vs. Advertising: 3 Facts of Life) in which Al makes a compelling argument for publicity overshadowing advertising:

Steve: In your book the Fall of Advertising & The Rise of PR you state that today's major brands are born with publicity - not advertising...

Al Ries: Yes, all the recent brand successes have been PR successes, not advertising successes. Red Bull, Starbucks, Harry Potter, Linux, Palm, The Body Shop, JetBlue, and Google.

Steve: Examples?

Al: Starbucks spent less than $10 million in advertising its first 10 years. That's less than one million a year, a trivial amount for a national brand. Here's what Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, has to say about advertising. "It is difficult to launch a product through consumer advertising because customers don't really pay attention as they did in the past. I look at the money spent on advertising and it surprises me that people still believe they are getting returns on their investments."

Want to read more? Here's the link. It's definitely worth going through.

As an aside, I find it interesting that on this side of the Atlantic, a distinction can be made between advertising and publicity. In France - the land of cheese, wine and yes, advertising - there is no difference between the two. "Publicite" (or "pub" for short) means both publicity and advertising. The power of traditional advertising is still pretty potent over there, so there may be something to that.

Speaking of France, check out what Grant McCracken had to say about Bernard Henri Levy's take on America's identity crisis. Now... to be fair, I haven't read BHL's book "American Vertigo", but having followed his work for over two decades now, I expect that any commentary on US culture by BHL should be about as relevant as a vegan's review of a Texas steak house. But hey, read his book and prove me wrong.

To come back to the original point... Advertising's demise and all that jazz, well, here's what's next: Economics might be circling the drain too! (Yay!) Ever the watchdog, Grant McCracken (yes, him again) points us to yet another "disappointing showing" this week with his response to this statement by David Brooks, which all but ushers the end of economics as we know it. Here's what Mr. Brooks had to say:

"Economics, which assumes people are basically reasonable and respond straightforwardly to incentives, is no longer queen of the social sciences. The events of the past years have thrown us back to the murky realms of theology, sociology, anthropology and history. Even economists know this, and are migrating to more behaviorialist and cultural approaches."

Sharing the same name as the famous MIT Economics professor should make me a bit of an authority on the subject, but since it doesn't, I'll let you read Grant's complete response here. (Go ahead. Google my name. I dare ya.)

Okay, so... advertising is dead. Now, the subject of economics seems to be following suit. What could be next? Ah yes, the internet. How so? Well, Mary Schmidt raises some very valid (and scary) points in her appropriately titled "Is The Internet Doomed" piece Monday:

"Broadband vendors want to start charging hefty fees for access. Their reasoning is that they provide the pipes so they should get paid more. However, that also means “them that has, gets,” at the expense of the smaller companies who can’t pay premimum fees. So, the Long Tail would be abruptly bobbed, drastically reducing business opportunities and innovation."

Let me just say two words: Bad idea.

Very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very bad idea.

Definitely read the rest of Mary's piece and follow her links. While you're there, check out her response to Slate's assertion that blogging - having peaked - is probably going to die soon as well. *sigh* Check out Slate's "Twilight of the Blogs".

"Like many others who are constantly analyzing blogs, the on-line pub just flat misses the point (and power) of blogging. It’s not an industry, product or trend – it’s a way of communicating. And, communicating never goes out of style (sloppy as it may be at times.) What is changing is that the spin power of media, ad agencies, and governments is rapidly diminishing.
The bell has rung, the horse is out of the barn and there’s no going back – regardless of government censorship, business wishful thinking, and pundit pontificating."

Wow. Well said.

Rounding up today's posts, also check out Johnnie Moore's links - especially the one on "the end of the silver bullet".

... Okay, that one doesn't really count, but it's worth reading anyway: First, because it will help improve your health, second, because it will illustrate a thing or two about the power of assumptions (like... "eat low fat foods to stay thin,") and third, because it will also teach you a whole lot about the power of denial. Oh yeah, I almost forgot... it also announces the end or death or demise of... something. It seems to be the popular theme this week.

So... Is it the end of this, or the end of that? Doubtful. The French will continue to be French for a while, Americans will continue to be American for a while too, and so will advertising, blogging, marketing and economics, for starters. People will keep buying diet aids and fat-free ice cream and low-carb pasta. We will keep watching the Olympic Games and the Superbowl and whatever the next big network TV hit may be. We will keep noticing billboards on our way home from work. We will continue to notice great print ads in our favorite magazines, which, by the way, we will continue to buy or subscribe to. Sure, the world is changing fast, but none of these things will die. At least not in the next few years. We aren't talking about VHS of 8-track here. You can't compare advertising to 33-turn records. At this point in time, it's kind of silly.

So, don't pay too much attention to some of the doomsday noise bouncing around out there: Just because new clouds are rolling in doesn't mean that the sky is falling.

Have a great Wednesday, everyone.

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