Recently Michael Wolff, USA Today, published an article titled The End of Advertising As We Know It. As is usual, when the topic is advertising media, Dave Beckert has an opinion and often a response.
A long time ago I took a philosophy course in medieval logic. Bits and pieces of it came back to me while I read this article. Specifically it seems to me that the author creates a straw horse here “advertising is dead,” by limiting advertising to single function – creating desire via the: 30 second TV spot (in itself a statement I wildly object, but this is not the forum to discuss that!). Which he then proceeds to “prove” with a sound-bite or variant of the “reduction ad absurdum” argument – the invention of the DVR which means no one “sees” television commercials anymore. To my mind both argument are specious.
In contrast I’d argue that the: 30 TV spot is still powerful. He admits as much by talking about sports (please note he misses the other type of “live” programming — news, especially local news). So he’s already admitting that in certain limited situations, TV advertising still works. From this I’d argue it’s not so much that people don’t watch, it’s that it’s so much more expensive to locate and place spots where they are watching. (A key fact to remember is that people who use DVRs the most also watch the most TV and inevitably a good portion of this, for a variety of reasons remains live.).
Thus, I see overall fragmentation of the viewing marketplace as the most pressing problem with TV advertising today. Before fragmentation a buyer could easily impact half his target with enough reach and frequency to move the sales needle with no more than, say, ten spots. That buy from inception, to purchase, to post-buy analysis and payment probably took no more than five or six man hours in total to complete. Today’s media fragmentation, a contemporary witches brew of digital over the air TV, a plethora of Internet options and cable, has resulted in a staggering loss of viewers per spot irrespective of the amount of DVR usage. This means that reaching that same level of impact as in our earlier examples requires a massive number of spots administrated from start to finish by a small army of highly specialized (read expensive) technocrats.
To my thinking this hypothetical contemporary TV buy would still work strategically — brand will build and product will sell. It’s just that the economics won’t work. The advertiser will likely never sell enough to recoup the investment within the short-term time-line ROI the company requires (or even worse, maybe never!). The advertiser will have won the battle and lost the war.
As an aside I think the effect of all this is to have frozen most of the big brands in place — much like we saw happen in the cigarette world when the government virtually eliminated advertising. And there, just like now when brand advertising for whatever reason is limited, “advertising” moves largely from brand-building to promotions. Hence the explosion of almost useless banner advertising.
I could go on, but that would almost take a book, which would be all wrong anyway.