Advertising Is Dying

  |  July 8, 2005   |  Comments

Traditional advertising is dying, while persuasion is alive and kicking.

Advertising is on its deathbed.

If traditional advertising still works for you, I bet you aren't really advertising. You're persuading.

Before I explain, let me pose a question: What's the difference between advertising/marketing and sales?

Truth is, they're almost identical. Or they should be. The only true difference between the two is the ability to accurately measure cause and effect. It's easier to fire an ineffective salesman than an ineffective ad firm. At least, it used to be.

Ineffective advertising has finally been exposed, and, like a vampire, it's withering away under the rays of sunlight.

Where does the light come from? Web analytics. Web analytics is a cure for not only bad advertising but also bad sales. We can now measure the effects of offsite ads and online conversion. We can measure what actually happens rather than speculate. We see when email or banners are working but the site is failing. We know more about our customers, what they do, and in some cases why they do it.

Slowly, companies are getting wise to this ability to measure the buying and selling processes. Online, accountability is built in at every turn. Companies are posing questions about their offline campaigns. They're losing patience with advertising and all its promises. It's not that advertising is getting worse. Actually, it seems better and more relevant. It's just too little, too late.

Why Traditional Advertising Is Dying

Sure, the Internet has a hand in taking advertising down. But there are other factors:

  • Media fragmentation. TiVo, iPods, hundreds of cable channels, satellite TV and radio, podcasting, Web sites, consumer-generated media, even video games cut people's time and attention into thousands of teeny fragments. Advertisers have a harder time reaching large population segments. They spend more to reach fewer people. They used to reach the masses with buys on three TV networks; now, they must buy on 92 stations to approximate the same reach.

  • Communication acceleration/information availability. Word-of-mouth advertising and "badvertising" move faster than ever. Bad news about your business or a failure to live up to advertising claims cancel out any image-control advertising. Even great advertising can't serve as a smokescreen for poor selection, an inferior product, and dismal customer service. Slick catalogs and marketing claims can't detract from Dell's CRM failings or help customer lifetime value, for example. You can fool a lot of people once, but it's much harder to do it twice.

  • Overemphasized demographics. Demographic targeting has long been the focus of marketing efforts. Problem is, it only tells you where customers might be, not what messages they might respond to.

  • Creative, rather than persuasive, ad firms. Read a recent roundtable discussion in "Fast Company." It's revealing only one exec brought up the term "accountability." No one mentioned "results." Clearly, many ad firms still don't get it. If they don't consider accountability and results, they relegate themselves to an offline equivalent of spam.

Persuasion: A New System for a New Generation

Old-school advertising can't be resuscitated. The landscape has changed. Advertising must morph into something different. Advertising alone isn't enough.

We must shift from the advertising/marketing/sales silo strategy to an all-encompassing customer persuasion worldview.

Architect a persuasive experience as opposed to broadcasting only what a company wants people to know. You'll inject relevance into every customer touch point no matter where the customer experiences the company or where he is in the buying process.

Companies that best manage and coordinate the customer experience from first touch to post-sale are the ones that will succeed in the future:

  • They'll learn how to persuade customers in a manner they prefer.

  • They'll be able to demonstrate relevance to many different buyer types in all stages of the buying cycle by infusing relevance into every touch point.

  • They'll be able to transform one-time buyers into enthusiastic repeat buyers.

Most of our work focuses on what happens when people arrive at their Web sites. Yet we find online persuasive efforts have a back-reaching effect on advertising efforts and a forward-reaching effect on offline sales efforts.

Online persuasion is a great breeding ground for relevant messaging and experiences. It can be used across advertising and sales efforts. In this respect, online marketers have a leg up over their traditional counterparts.

Do you persuade customers or shout advertising messages at them, hoping you can drag them kicking and screaming to your cash register? Tell me what evidence you've seen that advertising is dead.

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Bryan Eisenberg

Bryan Eisenberg is coauthor of the Wall Street Journal, Amazon, BusinessWeek, and New York Times bestselling books "Call to Action," "Waiting For Your Cat to Bark?," and "Always Be Testing." Bryan is a professional marketing speaker and has keynoted conferences globally such as SES,, Direct Marketing Association, MarketingSherpa, Econsultancy, Webcom, SEM Konferansen Norway, the Canadian Marketing Association, and others. In 2010, Bryan was named a winner of the Direct Marketing Educational Foundation's Rising Stars Awards, which recognizes the most talented professionals 40 years of age or younger in the field of direct/interactive marketing. He is also cofounder and chairman emeritus of the Web Analytics Association. Bryan serves as an advisory board member of SES Conference & Expo, the eMetrics Marketing Optimization Summit, and several venture capital backed companies. He works with his coauthor and brother Jeffrey Eisenberg. You can find them at

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