Getting over ourselves, or why advertising works

AdvertisingI work in social media marketing, and as a result many more traditional marketers expect me to have a low opinion of  old school advertising – which is usually characterized by the “30 second spot.” It’s common to find social media purists decrying the state of marketing, knocking advertising as too interruptive, too noisy, disempowering of consumers, and in general a plague upon humankind.

It’s true, I do favor social as a marketing approach – but for those who mistake “social” as “marketing on Facebook,” it’s not about where you play. It’s more about how you play, and the philosophy of empowering consumers, trying to produce great experiences for them and do things on their terms, weaving yourself into the fabric of people’s existing lives in an appropriate and low-impact way. These two philosophies and how the people who espouse them approach social venues are summed up very well in this recent post from my colleague Jen Van Der Meer.

In her post, she refers to the authors of the Cluetrain Manifesto, a seminal book that continues to define the social media side of the argument, admitting that they were wrong when they wrote “We are immune to advertising. Just forget it”:

“That was clearly wrong,” Locke said. “Advertising isn’t going to work? Yes, it can. Google is the biggest brand and company going and they’ve made it completely on Internet advertising, and so checkmate.”

I like that Locke admitted he was wrong, but Google seems like a weak concession. What about the billions of dollars still getting spent on TV, outdoor, even direct mail? Stuff much older than Google is still rocking along.

Why is that? And why does it appear that advertising in some form will always exist, until the end of time?

It’s because we need to be interrupted.

Most human beings are prone to routines. We find ruts and we get in them. It’s a natural mechanism that helps us cope with the risks in the world around us –  a deep survival instinct. Cavemen found the most sabre-tooth-tiger-free path from cave to water source and took that path every day, starting a chain of behaviors that would eventually lead to me taking the same way to work every day.

We even encourage routine in others because we need them to be predictable, to lessen the perceived risk in our world. Sure, there are some folks that are on the surface more adventurous than others, but even adventure can start to be a rut.

Advertising, in many cases, serves as the interruption that nudges you in a new direction. When this happens, we appreciate it, and so do the advertisers. Explore the wine country in Michigan? Sure, good idea. Enjoy a Stella Artois? Hmm, a beer does sound good this morning. Buy that Lexus and put a big bow on it? I was just trying to think what to buy the family for Christmas!

Ok, perhaps those examples are a bit over the top, and I do believe that advertising spend will be generally lower in the future. But regardless of the form it eventually takes, interruptive marketing will always have a place and will always work because we have to get over ourselves. We need the help. Without it, the world would be reaching out to us to try something new a lot less.