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Advertising’s Continuing (R)evolution

Advertising may pre-date “the world’s oldest profession.” After all, to attract a clientele, those practitioners first had to communicate their unique features and benefits and then convey how they differed from the nearby competition. Whether it’s an account that Gilgamesh, Sargon & Greenberg would have wanted is an open question but, today, thousands of years later, people still agree that sex sells...even if we don’t sell any actual sex – at least not publicly.
 
Yet across the millenia, has anything changed? Sellers still want to get the attention of buyers, captivate them long enough to generate desire, and make it clear why what they have to offer is the very best deal. Consumers want to know that what they buy is what they need, that it will do what they want it to (and what’s it’s supposed to), and that the value is worth the merchant’s asking price (or, in every place except the U.S.A., the negotiated selling price).
 
What has changed are the media...but not the disputes about them. In all likelihood, the same “death of” discussions greeted the handbill (and the presumed decline in billboards...which Latin speakers can still read on the walls of Pompeii), the print ad (killing the handbill), radio (the end of print), television (the demise of radio), cable (the end of advertising altogether), and the Web (the eternal darkness of TV).
 
In today’s seemingly all-digital-all-the-time world, ad agencies, media buyers, production companies, distribution services, in-house marketing departments, and the CMOs who oversee them all, should not perceive this digital era as a killer. It’s just an evolutionary offspring – a technologically demanding new discipline that, honestly, is no more challenging than radio was in its infancy or TV in its early days. It’s just a new vehicle and, like a Tesla, requires a mechanic who knows how to tune it...or whatever electric cars require to keep them running right.
 
Digital may permit better targeting, more precise messages, more appropriate offers – when combined with data analysis – but the underlying objectives are the same as they were for the Sumerians. The new technologies require new skills, of course, but they also require more acuity in understanding how to use them to achieve specific goals: what do you want to accomplish, how will you measure it, what will determine success, how does it integrate with other campaigns, and what will you do if it works...or doesn’t?
 
This is not news. Or shouldn’t be. As I’ve often told clients, the better directions you give us, the faster we’ll get where you want us to go. Once that’s defined, the best media almost select themselves.
 
Digital isn’t advertising. It’s just another way to deliver it. And it won’t solve any problems that bad strategy, positioning, messaging, design, and copy create. No medium ever has. But each new one makes it possible to send the wrong thing to more people more easily.
 
Don’t do that.

About the author

Peter Altschuler's picture

BlueSteps Executive Guest Writer

Peter Altschuler has been making products and services irresistible for more than a generation in a career that extends from high technology to television production.

He’s currently the chief marketing and creative strategist at Wordsworth & Company and has served as a Group Creative Director at San Francisco ad agency Anderson & Lembke, run the in-house agency at Candle Corp (now part of IBM) and, earlier, worked in television, producing for ABC News, Sesame Workshop, The Food Network, and PBS.
   
In his spare time, he brings books to life — most recently narrating Getting Religion by former Newsweek religion editor Kenneth Woodward and Creativity, Inc. by Pixar founder Ed Catmull — and performs in everything from Shakespeare to commercials.

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