Is Advertising Really Dead?

You’ve been hearing it for years: “Advertising is dead, it just doesn’t work anymore.” By any measure, we have witnessed a seismic shift in advertising. It is changing. Evolving. Morphing. But dead? Around the world, advertisers will spend $592.43 billion in 2015, according to figures from eMarketer, an increase of 6.0% over 2014. (Very few dying business […]

Screen Shot 2015-06-22 at 10.22.30 PMYou’ve been hearing it for years: “Advertising is dead, it just doesn’t work anymore.

By any measure, we have witnessed a seismic shift in advertising. It is changing. Evolving. Morphing.

But dead?

Around the world, advertisers will spend $592.43 billion in 2015, according to figures from eMarketer, an increase of 6.0% over 2014. (Very few dying business practices show an increase in spending from one year to the next.)

And if you’re thinking these numbers represent non-US growth, here’s another statistic: The US remains the dominant advertising market worldwide. This year, marketers will spend $189.06 billion on ads in the US. (Again, quite far from dead.)

It’s enough to make one question whether the people who ring the death bell for advertising actually know what advertising is? Here is Webster’s definition:

“Advertising: The action of calling something to the attention of the public especially by paid announcements.”

Hmmm. That’s a practice with a pretty long history…one that doesn’t appear to be going away any time soon.

Perhaps what these people are trying to express is that they, personally, do not like advertising and simply wish it would go away. That money now spent on this so-called ‘outdated’ form of marketing would be, in their enlightened opinion, better spent on new forms content marketing and other forms of social media. Or experiences. Or organic and more ‘human and personal’ interaction.

Points, hard to argue against.

Certainly, the marketing landscape has changed. Dramatically. It’s now far more complex with tools and options that evolve almost daily. Through social media, consumers have tilted much of the power back to their side of the buyer-seller formula. Digital continues to outperform other methods of ‘older’ media. The role of advertising is different and more vertical and integrated than in previous times. And yes, people now work harder than ever to ‘bypass’ advertising whenever they have the chance.

But dead?

Maybe advertising’s naysayers are simply trying to articulate that they don’t like poorly devised and executed advertising: The kind that tries to sell too hard; the kind that doesn’t create and nurture an emotional connection. Artificial advertising that lacks insight and humanity.

Has anyone, anywhere, ever liked this kind of advertising?

Many death-to-advertising supporters would also have you believe that back in the good old days, one could simply create bad advertising and POOF — sales simply rolled in the door.

Sorry. It never worked that way.

Was it easier back then? Arguably, yes. But a message that was poorly developed and poorly crafted still performed poorly. Some things, never change.

Unfortunately, too many advertising people today have been brainwashed in the school of ‘breaking through the clutter.’ Solely, and to the detriment of all else. It’s an approach that all too often creates mindless, ungrounded advertising — with a message that follows no strategy and delivers no point of difference.

The kind of advertising that people hate. The kind of advertising that has pushed people to believe that the business of advertising on-the-whole, just doesn’t work anymore.

The point: No, advertising is not dead. But it’s reputation, with the very people it is seeks to influence, has been greatly wounded. Its place and importance in the marketing mix has changed forever, and will continue to evolve over time.

Is it harder? Yes. Is it dead? No. Does it still work? Of course it can. But…

…those who advertise need to worry more about saying something of meaning, and less about creating advertising that is ‘louder, faster, funnier and cooler.’ Build a message of purpose. A message of relevance. Deliver value. Deliver something people actually care about.

Or you know what? The folks who claim that advertising doesn’t work anymore, well…they’ll be right.

(By the way, if you need to develop stronger advertising – and other strategic and tactical marketing efforts – for your business and brands, I know a brand agency that can help.)


Brian Creath is the president and strategy director of Cohesion, a nationally recognized St. Louis-based brand agency. He has helped hundreds of businesses and brands achieve success in a 30-year career. To learn more, email him at bcreath@cohesioncompany.com.

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