In Chapter 3 of my book, I wrote:
Last but not least, there is the unspeakable truth in an era in which we have come to idolise Social Media: the New Yorker was much more of a real Social Network and of a Community than Facebook or Twitter ever were or ever will be! The New Yorker was, as Steve Harrison put it, “both an extension of the individual and a place of communion to which they came for their shared experience”.
I closed the Chapter by asking:
Could the fact that we’re missing a common shared vision of the world like the one we had as readers of the NY Times or of The New Yorker be detrimental not only to the fate of our democracies, but to advertising as well?
While looking for a possible answer, I came across an article that goes against the conventional wisdom: not Half of my advertising is wasted, but I don’t know which half, as Wanamaker loved to quip; but rather: The Waste in Advertising Is the Part That Works.
Just like elaborate deer’s antlers or long peacock tails in the animal world (see: The Handicap Principle), lavish, even extravagant ad spending on the part of a company may signal a high-quality, successful brand that is confident consumers will try and buy their quality products over and over again so that they will be able to recoup their investment.
On the other hand, the argument goes, advertising on the web makes it possible for any small company to buy ads and act as if they were a big, confident and successful company.
Do I agree? Only in part: I look at a number of clues in order to make a guess about quality and reliability, and I think lavish ad spending could just as well signal an ego problem, a miscalculation or an attempt to brainwash consumers, for example to sell them products “unsafe at any speed”. Or that a company is selling crap at a premium price and can afford to continue advertising it. Soda, anyone? Or junk food? No, thank you.
Don Marti: The Problem With Targeting
However, I found a second and related argument much more interesting: on the web, low ad prices and targeting have made it unnecessary for a company to have to show their true colours and their confidence in their products to all their potential customers.
Or, as Richard Stacey put it:
The issue with targeting is that after a while, you narrow things down to the point where you stop having a group large enough to constitute an audience and end up with a group of individuals.
With enough slicing and dicing, a company can save money, but could risk ending up looking like the dishonest politician who crafts different speeches for different audiences, to the point that, as Don Marti explains, a consumer could think that:
With good enough targeting, you could be the one poor loser who they’re trying to stick with the last obsolete unit in the warehouse.
Apparently, consumers somehow understand this; they dislike tracking and targeting and dislike it even more the more they understand how it works. And there is no doubt: adoption of ad blocking and tracking protection tools is going and will go up.
So, the very fact that print ads are less targetable, force companies to speak to the whole audience and in doing so help them being perceived as trustworthy instead of sneaky is one of the reasons why ads in newspapers and magazines are more effective than ads on the web and can command a much higher price. I like this counter-intuitive theory a lot.
Plug for my Book
To find out about other ways in which companies are compromising their brands, wasting their marketing money and making fools of themselves, and to try to find an antidote to all this madness, check out: What Happened To Advertising? What Would Gossage Do?