Advertising shouldn’t be a faith-based initiative

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The inspiration for this editorial comes from a trio of Booz-Allen consultants who wrote, in Strategy+Business, "The Future of Advertising Is Now." In a world of continuous partial attention, it is hard to put anything new on your reading list, but please check this out. It is an incisive, well-written, and even inspiring piece about the sea change that is taking place in marketing accountability, thanks to the coming-of-age of interactive media.

An excerpt (which serves almost as an executive summary of the article) from Randall Rothenberg, John Frelinghuysen, and Christopher Vollmer that I have been quoting madly: "The new media technologies, by drastically reducing production and distribution costs and making possible almost continual and instantaneous refinements in message, promise to increase the efficiency of accountable advertising. The spurious distinction between image advertising and retail advertising will erode, then disappear, as each advertisement, every product placement, all editorial can be tied to transactions."

This article lingers for me because it gives voice to several truths I feel every day in my work with b-to-b clients:

  1. That advertising, for my budget-challenged marketers, has to satisfy more than just a set of branding goals. It has to drive interaction, start a conversation.
  2. That traditional means of accounting for advertising effectiveness (pre/post studies, point-in-time ad effectiveness surveys or, god forbid, reach and frequency numbers) are inadequate. I could say intellectually dishonest and self-serving, but that would be suggesting bad intent where there is none. It's just that we're all left a little exposed (try presenting your program effectiveness bar and pie charts to a group of research scientists, or worse, the operations research professionals who wrote your b-school stats textbook) by the current tools and methods for proving a campaign's worth. The good news is that there are better methods, and better information out there. Check out "The Measure of Marketing," a white paper by Naras Eechambadi for some good ideas, particularly for key performance indicators across a long, consideration-intensive sales cycle.
  3. That consumers are way ahead of advertisers. The information sources (increasingly interactive) they value to make purchase decisions are changing, and advertisers are slow to move from traditional (broadcast and print) channels. Smart marketers are taking advantage of this mismatch, and building more effective, efficient programs than their competitors.

These truths, and others like them, make this a heady time. You can create disproportionate value, and gain disproportionate advantage (over competitors, in negotiating with media) if you stay a few months ahead of interactive trends and technologies. Or as Rothenberg, et al put it: "As in any period of discontinuity, major opportunities for growth and market leadership are being created. … At no other time has marketing been so measurable, accountable and interactive."

Amen, brother.

Mike O'Toole is a partner and exec VP at PJA Advertising+Marketing. He can be reached at [email protected].

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