Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The death of advertising

These days are over
I used to be a creative leader at an ad agency. When I worked in non-profits I employed ad agencies and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on ads. I had ad sales people on speed dial. So, this is a hard thing to say.

Advertising just doesn't work anymore for non-profits.

A long-time ago, it did. That's when advertising was a lot simpler. You bought a newspaper or radio ad, people saw or heard it and they responded by supporting your cause. I still remember placing one or two big ads in the newspaper back in the 90s and having almost everyone I know tell me they saw them. Advertising was that powerful.

Those days are now gone. The media, and consequently, the advertising world, has fratcured. Less people read newspapers, watch TV or listen to radio. More of them are going online to get their news and information. At the same time there's been an explosion in available media. In the City of 150,000 where I live in there are almost a dozen radio stations, two major newspapers, two inhouse newspapers at local institutions, three magazines and two online news services. But a great many people here actually listen to national radio from outside the area and read national newspapers. It all means that individual advertising vehicles reach less people than ever before. It means that to get the same reach as you did a decade ago you have to do a great deal more advertising on more channels. And that costs money. Lots of it. In today's world of advertising you need to go big or go home. The days of doing an ad here or there are over. The days of advertising being cheap are over.

Then there's the problem of the numbing effect that all this advertising is having on us. As an average North American I see on average 3,000 messages a day. There are so many ads coming at me from my TV, mobile phone, email, DVDs, billboards, newspapers and more that I can't actually process them all. I ignore most of them. To break through and get my attention an ad has to be radically different or have such a huge footprint that I can't miss it. And what do both of those options have in common? They're both expensive.

Many people applaud the demise of traditional advertising and point to online advertising as its saviour -- social media, search, mobile. But here, advertising fails again.Yes, these online mediums can give you the ability to be more micro than macro in your advertising, but the same problems remain. There are too many online mediums and too many online ads. Reaching people online will take better ads and more of them. And that costs money.

My non-profit colleagues and clients don't understand all this. They still seek advertising solutions to their communications problems. They still select ad agencies to meet their marketing needs. They spend money that they don't have on slick, flash-in-the-pan ads online or offline that do very little for their long-term health.

Advertising, your days of serving the non-profit world are over.

But what can replace it? See my next blog for the ANSWER.

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