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you say what? #36

November 20, 2008

so apt, especially in times like this.

from advertising for peanuts,

In these troubled times, here’s a reassuring thought. Advertising may languish at times like these, but it will never die. Because, like so many other disciplines, the effectiveness of which is wide open to interpretation, advertising is too squishy to be pinned down—like cottage cheese. You can’t dismiss a discipline in its entirety, once and for all, if you can’t come up with irrefutable evidence of its worthlessness. Some advertising seems to work sometimes. And that is enough of a carrot to keep businesses coming back for more.

Disciplines that vanish are those that can be definitively disproven and discredited. Alchemy. Phrenology. That kind of stuff. But advertising, bless its heart, will always be able to make a plausible (but never airtight) case for its effectiveness.

The influencing of human behavior in a gross and macro manner can’t generally be tested and proven successful or unsuccessful. You can look at the numbers and find evidence of the effect of advertising, maybe, but other variables invariably muddy the waters. Not the least of which is the psychological/emotional variable that inclines both agency and client to interpret numbers sympathetically and optimistically, because they need to justify the time, money and effort invested in it.

Of course, direct marketing zealots will be quick to point out that their brand of advertising is absolutely measurable, and I concede that point to them. But that subdivision of the advertising community, it seems, will forever be just that—a subdivision—because, among other reasons, that form of advertising doesn’t seem to lend itself to softer emotional brand image/brand voice advertising that contributes, presumably, to the long term health of the brand. So far, no one has cracked the code on making an ad funny or touching or provocative while at the same time screaming “but wait, that’s not all!” and pounding away at the 800 number or URL.

What about all this online/interactive stuff that is being heralded by many as the future of advertising?

All this alternative/guerrilla/webby stuff suffers from many of the same limitations that traditional advertising does. The metrics that are used are mostly indirect—click through rates and other such dubious measures. But whether the website or the interactive game or whatever is actually enhances the brand or is responsible for an increase in sales is mushy stuff. Like cottage cheese, it’s slippery and squishy and it conforms to the container in which it is held.

I celebrate the cottage cheesiness of advertising because, as long as advertising appears to work, or, at least, doesn’t clearly not work, advertisers will advertise (though maybe not in the coming year, given the gloomy forecasts). And you and I will continue getting away with doing what we do.

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