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Why Advertising Has A Brand Problem

March 26, 2012

I am convinced of it—advertising has a brand problem.

Discussion after discussion, meeting after meeting, experience after experience, it keeps coming back to me: advertising is losing the war.

With big agencies, and big accounts, and big budgets, the word ‘advertising’ is still okay. But in small to mid-sized business, saying ‘advertising’ in conversation makes you sound like you’re completely out of touch with today.

The CEOs, managing partners, and presidents of today’s businesses and organizations don’t like advertising. It’s been drilled into their heads that it doesn’t work, or at least a big part of it doesn’t. That can be argued, but that’s for another blog post.

What can’t be argued (well) is that our terms have changed. Today’s executive is much more interested in ‘marketing’. Now the classic definition puts advertising as one activity under the marketing umbrella, but that’s beside the point. That’s not how corporate America is using the term.

Marketing is now loosely defined as everything to promote your product or service EXCEPT advertising. It’s about social media, personal selling, networking, PR, sales promotion, trade promotion, events, and ‘engagement’. It’s not about advertising.

The C-suite has been misguided, I will give you that. In the push for ‘accountability’ in marketing and advertising expenditures, traditional advertising has been pushed aside by the Internet for its incredible measurements and metrics. With the web, we know who is visiting our sites and opening our emails. When know when the did it, for how long, and where they clicked. And if a purchase action occurred, we can point our finger right to the action and know how, where and why.

Tradition advertising doesn’t offer those luxuries. It’s much harder to track—not impossible, but harder. CEOs want numbers…or better put, CFOs are pushing CEOs to want numbers.

Here’s the catch: just because its harder to measure doesn’t mean it isn’t working.

To add to the challenges of advertising accountability, we now have to worry about the perception of the whole concept.

Since the economic downturn of 2008, my students at Pepperdine University have learned that it is far easier to get ‘marketing’ jobs than ‘advertising’ jobs. And that, my friends, is a classic brand problem.

Advertising and branding luminaries Stuart and Bob Sanders years ago drilled into my head that branding problems are not always (or even often) from real circumstances. They are from perceptions. And the good news is those perceptions can be altered.

So I challenge you marketing folk to watch your use of the terms of this profession, and measure the results on the faces of your clients. If you’re like me, you’ll find yourself talking more about ‘integrated marketing’ efforts, and less about ‘advertising campaigns.’

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