Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Billboards Exemplify How Advertising Has Become Wallpaper

One thing has become abundantly clear to me as I traveled cross country on four different routes covering 12,000 miles and more than half of the states in the Union in less than half a year.

It’s really true that advertising is now so ubiquitous that it has become the very antithesis of its purpose, an invisible wallpaper, white noise. And the outdoor billboard form of advertising has become not only obsolete, it is also a blight on the public view-shed and now primarily noticeable only by its absence.

Well beyond community/destination marketing, where I worked for four decades, advertising is joining “selling” as the weakest and least credible (it is you talking about yourself) or essential sub-elements of the marketing mix because a person is now confronted with 3,000 advertising messages a day -- 1500 a day on television alone and more than a million annually.

For example, on television, where viewers are spread ever so thinly over more than 300 channels now and with stations increasing the number of minutes of advertising per hour, it takes a minimum of 3 placements of an ad to remembered and 7 to 11 highly targeted placements to motivate a target audience and that’s if you have the marketing intelligence to know your target audience and can isolate a medium that primarily reaches that audience.

It meant a lot to me when executives at national agencies like Foote, Cone & Belding, Ypartnership and Ogilvy would comment that “DCVB” (where I worked for 20 years until retiring back in 2009) really “gets it” when it comes to advertising or public relations or research or positioning or image or holistic marketing” maybe even more than the “best practice” accolades that organization racked up and continues to rack up.

I’m ambidextrous though so my left-brained executive side enjoyed the compliments about results, leapfrogging the competition, being data-driven, judicious use of traditional advertising and measurable performance, while my right-brain creative side enjoyed the compliments about grasping perception and a slow-build marketing mix focused on earned media and stand-out creative results.

In response to a blog I wrote about the myopia that keeps so many communities hostage to group sales, a long-time destination marketing friend of mine out west responded by asking why it seems that there are always one or two people in every community who obsess about advertising? Ad-dicts he called them and pardon the pun.

Some may stay addicted to ads because they go back as far as I do to a time in the last century before marketing became holistic and references were to “sales and marketing” or “advertising and marketing” as though these were separate and mutually exclusive activities. Another tell-tail sign of that dinosaur age is confusing branding and advertising.

One way to spot whether someone is serious about advertising is that they understand its limitations and its role in concert with other marketing activities and they grasp that marketing intelligence (research) must be increased when you do advertising.

Unless you have enough resources to fully deploy all other activities in the marketing mix, the role of advertising in community/destination marketing is now best reserved as a means to harvest inquiries.

Even ad agencies dropped the term advertising from their names decades ago while breaking free of the influence of over reliance on commissions paid by media outlets for placements in favor of a more holistic marketing approach on behalf of clients.

Most destination marketing organizations, which are mini-specialized marketing entities with the same skill sets but narrowly specializing in the full-time marketing of a specific community, moved to much more effective and efficient holistic marketing even earlier.

To many, the movement to holistic marketing vs. obsession with advertising or sales began as early as the 1960s. I picked up on it in 1970 at BYU while reading essays by Harvard legend Theodore Leavitt, the “Peter Drucker” of marketing so I’m sure the transition goes back to at least the 1920s.

It has come more into the open for non-marketing folks with main stream books like The Fall of Advertising and The Rise of PR written by famed marketing strategists Al and Laura Reis (father and daughter.) Al by the way writes a great column in Ad Age and Laura pens an informative blog entitled Reis’s Pieces.

1 comment:

Karen said...

AMEN! My tourism mentor always referred to billboards at "litter on a stick". I tell every outdoor advertising sales person that calls on me "no" to billboards. Besides being a blight on the American landscape they are the least effective advertising for any destination. The majority of travelers have already selected their destination before they leave their driveway. At 70 miles per hour drivers don't retain the message anyway. Also, states like Vermont, Maine and Hawaii, who have banned billboards, have not seen any decline in tourism. Scenic America has been working hard for years to get rid of America's "litter on a stick".