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Advertising Is Dead Again…

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(Editor’s Note: Sitegeist is a semi-regularly posted to blog written by the staff at Splat Productions…)

I walked by someone’s desk earlier this week and noticed that they had a browser window open and were chuckling. Stepping closer to take a look, I saw that they were looking at the home page of a well known Ad & PR firm, which was loudly asserting that, “Advertising, as we know it, no longer works.”

“Hmmmm,” I thought to myself, “…guess I better find me a new profession.”

“Advertising, as we know it, no longer works.” Is there truth in this bold proclamation?

A History Primer

Somewhere in the latter part of the Paleolithic era of human development — say, after family bands had progressed from nomadic cavedwellers to housebound farmers and hunters — some clever stone age entrepreneur invented a new tool. In those days, meat was scarce and the staple of the day was a delicious hot porridge made from “locally and organically grown” grains. (Funny, though, they didn’t call them that yet…) A challenge of the time, however, was separating the inner, fleshy part of the grain from its outer hull. Those chewy hulls would somehow or another make their way into the porridge and play hell with Stone Age dental bridges and what not. At about this time, though, along comes a gal with an idea. We’ll call her Oumquohoka. Using the technology of the time, she invented a stone implement that — when applied with the appropriate technique and force — neatly separated the grain from its hull. It was a pure stroke of genius and she knew other cooks in both her village and neighboring villages would wanna get their hands on this revolutionary device. “And,” she thought to herself, “maybe I can trade these tools to cooks in other villages, for some of the ingredients which seem sparse in our village…”

It was a great idea but, of course, no one else in any of the other neighboring villages had ever heard of our inventor’s new device. And, even if they had, it was so revolutionary that it was unlikely they would have believed in its usefulness right off the bat.

Luckily, Oumquohoka had an ally in a neighbor hunter friend who had an idea. Because his line of work took him far afield from their home village, he offered to take samples of Oumquohoka’s tool to other villages and introduce it to other cooks and millers. As he travelled, the other villagers began seeing the virtues of this miraculous tool. They began telling their friends about its usefulness. And then those friends told more friends. And so on and so forth. Thus, in this preliterate, prebroadcast media, preinternet era, the first — and still the most successful form of advertising — was born. Word of Mouth advertising. Praise and recommendation from trusted personal sources.

When someone makes the statement “Advertising, as we know it, no longer works,” I cringe. One reason I cringe is because advertising and PR literature is filled with “paradigm changing” hyperbole which — for as long as I’ve been reading it — has been telling me (every six months or so) that everything about anything has completely changed. As professionals, we demean our credibility by continually making such overreaching statements. (Remember Chicken Little?) And, as far as I can tell, the fundamentals governing consumer decision making really haven’t changed and won’t change until we evolve into a species with a different set of needs and concerns. We still value good, cheap food. We still crave sex. We still need to put a roof over our family’s heads. And we still crave the companionship of our friends.

What has changed, of course, and what, I think, people mean when they make sweeping statements such as the one above, are the different opportunities our digital era empowers us with to reach our clients, friends and family. Twitter, Facebook, blogging and all the other “Web 2.0” technologies offer unique chances to connect with others. As advertising professionals, it is our responsibility to understand how these opportunities can enable our clients to reach out to their customers and future customers. Having said that though, traditional “paradigms” are still alive and healthy, thank you. It’s still easier to sell products which have a unique “revolutionary” quality about them. (Just ask Oumquohoka.) And the fastest way to ensure a huge spike in sales is to get people on the outside — your customers — to start recommending your product to their friends, who will recommend it to their friends. And so on, and so forth.

And that, my friends, is what advertising is, and always has been, all about.

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