What Advertising Platforms Actually Inspire?


The most popular article in the Financial Times this weekend had this headline: “How the Mad Men lost the plot.”

It opens with an anecdote about advertising legend Jeff Goodby.

“On his return from this year’s annual ad industry awards festival at Cannes in June, Goodby wrote a rueful piece for The Wall Street Journal. In the past, he said, the only true measure of success was whether the public knew and cared about your work. “You could get into a cab and find out, in a mile or two, whether you mattered in life, just by asking the driver.” Now, “No one knows what we do any more.”

The problem, it seemed, was that the conversation about the media business which for a long time had been about creativity, inspiration and storytelling had shifted almost entirely to ad tech, content delivery and analytics.

“When he got home and tried to tell friends from outside the industry what he had seen, they looked bored, even pitying.”

Indeed, in recent years the advent of digital media has presented tremendous challenges and opportunities for marketers who came from the world of traditional media.

The author points out that for 40 years brand advertising held a remarkably powerful mantle: it inspired and influenced people in subtle and profound ways.

Coke and others started to find success with ads that didn’t try to persuade anyone of anything. “I’d like to teach the world to sing” said nothing about how the drink tasted or whether it was more refreshing than its rivals. It simply lifted the heart a little and got everyone singing its song. From the 1970s onwards, the ad industry entered a creative golden age, making ads which millions enjoyed, quoted and sang.

Digital marketing, which has grown seemingly exponentially in size and impact over the last fifteen years, promised something very different: accountability. It was all well and good to get the world singing but digital analytics would allow Chief Marketing Officers (to say nothing of the accounting department) to know which advertising spend was working and which wasn’t.

The old adage about ad effectiveness — “Half my advertising is wasted, I just don’t know which half” — would no longer be true.

But something funny happened. It turns out that track-ability didn’t trump all and that, in fact, traditional media is an even more powerful advertising medium than anyone seemed to realize.

Media pundit Michael Wolff wrote an entire bestselling book about this earlier this year and just this morning the marketing expert Seth Godin blogged very similar sentiments.

What do these experts know? We’ll let the Financial Times have the final word.

“Despite the dazzling promises of digital, nearly all brands in mature categories still rely on conventional media. At the risk of being labelled Luddite, they suggested that although the internet has changed how the game is played, it has not changed its fundamental rules: mass marketing works; fame works; emotion works — and “legacy media”, especially TV, still do all of this better than the new.”