Is Mass Marketing Dead?

A couple weeks ago, I attended the Jupiter/ClickZ AdForum. Yahoo’s Wenda Harris Millard gave the afternoon keynote. In it, she referred to Larry Light’s statements about the end of mass marketing. I haven’t stopped thinking about what McDonald’s CMO said.

For those of you who missed it (or have forgotten), Light made the following pronouncement:

Any single ad, commercial, or promotion is not a summary of our strategy. It’s not representative of the brand message. We don’t need one big execution of a big idea. We need one big idea that can be used in a multidimensional, multilayered, and multifaceted way.

It’s one of the most profound declarations about the state of advertising I’ve seen in years. And coming from a guy who controls probably $100 million in media and hails from one of the best-known brands in the world, it’s an even bigger deal.

Does anyone believe him? Is Light’s declaration that mass marketing doesn’t work true? Or has his light bulb blown?

As much as traditional ad folks may want to pooh-pooh his pronouncements, disputing the statement’s inevitability is kind of tough. Sure, maybe right now you can accomplish your advertising goals using mass-marketing and mass-communication techniques. Down the road? The world is in the midst of some absolutely radical shifts in media consumption that will completely change the landscape.

Don’t agree? Get your head out of the sand, friend.

Folks at the really big agencies with the really big budgets may not see it, but those of us working for clients with budgets under eight figures know the great dreams of integrated-communications and cross-media campaigns are held on to for dear life.

Let’s say you’re at a traditional, small-to-midsized agency (interactive agencies don’t count). Where’s your clients’ money going? Online? Unless the client’s business actually is online, I’d guess the answer is “no.” Check out your business-to-business (B2B) clients. Where’s their money going? Trade books, direct mail, and sales literature, right?

Mobium Creative Group released an interesting new study that looks at simultaneous media consumption among business people, a common occurrence for those of us who have to multitask at work. What are businesspeople paying attention to most? Online: 41 percent. Makes sense. Only 5 percent primarily focus on trade journals; 4 percent focus on direct mail; and a whopping 1 percent on sales literature.

Are your B2B clients spending 41 percent of their budgets online? I doubt many are.

The marketers’ digital divide has nothing to do with the economics of our customers (or our clients’ customers). Rather, it’s the gap between what people are really doing and what we still believe they’re doing. Except for an exceptional few, I’d venture to say many of us haven’t begun to grasp the enormity of what’s really going on.

Some stats:

  • The Yankee Group predicts nearly 60 million households will have HDTV by 2008.

  • In-stat/MDR predicts 2 billion wireless users worldwide by 2007.
  • 83 percent of DVR users skip ads.
  • Over 11 million people have video-on-demand capabilities in their homes.
  • Yankelovich reports over 60 percent of consumers feel overloaded by advertising messages and nearly 70 percent are interested in mechanisms that block or skip ads.
  • Females over 40 spend more time playing online games than any other measured group.

The only thread holding these stats together is they represent shifts already underway in mass communication, some of which seem hard to believe. Light may not have all the details worked out, but he’s identified something we all need to come to grips with: Technology is changing the way people communicate and get information. Hoping it’s not happening isn’t going to work. The world changes daily, and faster than any of us can keep up.

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