Sunday Coffee Contemplations: Advertising’s Struggle for Relevance

Ignoring AdvertisingAt first, I thought this post would be about the dangers of thinking a particular communication tool, social media, is the strategy. But as I reread Scott Elser’s column in Inc., “Is Social Media Advertising or PR,” I realized it’s the desperation of advertising’s search for relevance in an environment that is increasingly becoming adept at tuning it out. Elser claims:

Advertising is far more connected to day-to-day business strategy and the objectives associated with specific products and services. Advertisers are focused more on achieving measurable results and meeting actual sales goals. As investment in social increases, return on investment will become an increasingly important metric. And social media will need to be closely aligned with product news, promotional offers and customer segmentation to drive real success. In other words, the expertise required for future tangible social success clearly lies with the advertising team.

Really? You want to kill social media completely by using it to advertise?

The London-based market research firm Fournaise Marketing Group reported that in 2011, on average, consumer response to marketing messages declined 19% compared to the first half of 2010. The Star Group reported on their blog that, “In tracking cross-channel (online and offline) ad campaigns across 20 different countries, the report showed that the hardest areas hit were the “mature markets” – the US, Europe and Australia, who saw a decrease in customer engagement and response of 23%.”

A Nielsen study reported that “92% of consumers say they trust word-of-mouth recommendations, less than half trust paid ads in traditional media outlets. The trust in these ads has declined by more than 20% since 2009. The level of trust in traditional advertising declined by more than 20%”

One of the reasons given for this decrease was “Ads have no redeeming value.”


That’s pretty harsh, especially following the 2002 publication of The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR by Al and Laura Ries, and it’s unflinching look at the advertising’s shortcomings when it comes to launching a product.

The first assignment my PR & advertising writing students are handed is to spend a few hours observing the world around them and list the advertisements they see. Then they are to analyze them, noting which ones resonated, and which ones don’t. I ask them to point out the ones they believe don’t work, and tell me why that is. Their answers should scare every advertising person out there.

  • I never noticed how many ads there are because I tune them all out.
  • They’re boring.
  • I normally never notice advertising – they’re just there.
  • I never realized just how many brands were just sitting there, advertising to us.
  • Our society is being thrown advertisements 24/7, yet we fail to realize it anymore because we have almost become numb to it.

The only time we really pay attention to advertising is during the Super Bowl season, and that’s only because it’s no longer advertising, it’s entertainment. If advertising can no longer accomplish even the basic task of gaining the attention of the audience, much less sell the product, what’s left? Retreating to the siege mentality of the previous century and trying to claim social media as advertising’s territory is misguided and smacks of desperation.

If advertising wants to be successful, it needs to take a look at itself and how it reaches out to people, not try to find just one more way to blast out ads at people. If they don’t, the end result for social media will just be one more way people ignore companies.



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