Why you shouldn’t waste your marketing dollars on traditional advertising

Years ago, the birth of mass media gave marketers amazing power to dictate what consumers should buy. Marketers advertised their products in newspapers, radio, and TV; told consumers what to buy, and consumers complied. As businesses grew, marketers reinvested in even more advertising to fuel further growth and the cycle continued. This advertising cycle was incredibly effective for years. Companies grew. Media outlets grew. Advertisers grew. Unfortunately, too much of a good thing can kill you.

The human brain is remarkably adept at filtering noise. We are continually bombarded with sensory stimulation of every kind. The brain, unable to process each and every message, must determine which stimuli are important enough to process and which should be ignored.  In fact, inability to perform this kind of filtering is symptomatic in some forms of autism.  So, as the numbers of advertisers, media outlets, and product choices grew, the volume of messages became too much for people to process, and our brains began to stop listening. Marketers realizing advertising was losing its effectiveness, but not really understanding why, became more desperate to attract our attention. They began to either shout louder and more often or they looked for new ways to interrupt and gain our attention. However, the more consumers were interrupted by advertising, the more advertisers were ignored. Eventually, advertising became less about selling and more about achieving brand recognition, largely the purview of deep-pocketed corporations, and still mostly ignored.

As the internet matured, marketers continued to see their powers of proclamation deteriorate. First, search engines leveled the playing field by enabling smaller companies to have their voices heard by markets traditionally dominated by large corporations. Second, the evolution of the internet as a social medium gave consumers the ability to discuss the faults and virtues of products and companies, all but removing the power of brand definition from the hands of the marketers. The marketers’ knee-jerk reaction was to combat negative comments on the internet by silencing them. Of course, this almost never works. As Joe Rogan’s character from the TV program News Radio put it, "Dude, you can't take something off the Internet. That's like trying to take pee out of a swimming pool." Actually, it’s even worse, since trying to remove content from the internet often results in amplification of the content you are trying remove. See recent stories about the hacked HD-DVD key and corporate Wikipedia edits as prime examples.

Marketers have been recognizing over the past decade that their days of dictating to customers are over and traditional advertising as a cost-effective means to sell goods and services is dead. To avoid being ignored, effective marketers (i.e. anyone interested in growing their business) must provide target markets with information they can use, engage customers in conversations, build relationships, and ultimately establish trust.

Many in the optical industry (who you would think should know better) are slow to catch on. I’ll bet you can name a few.

Read Part II: Breaking Through the Noise