For me personally, digital marketing started in the late 1990s, when I wrote the first edition of my first blog, which was called the Couch Potato Chronicles. That was so long ago that it wasn’t even called a blog. I didn’t really know what to call it. I guess you could have called it an email review column.
A lot of the learning that I applied to the marketing of this column was stuff I picked up from working with a couple of digital marketing agencies, the best of which was called Armantus, where I worked with owner, Andrew Keyes on about a zillion digital marketing campaigns for Fidelity Investments.
In around 2008 when I joined Facebook, I began to shift my digital marketing (which was now called blogging) emphasis to writing about advertising and marketing, which I knew something about, having been in it all my adult life.
I continued the Couch Potato Chronicles (to this day) as a series of mini reviews on Facebook.
Advertising Ain’t What It Used To Be
When I shifted into writing about advertising and marketing, I started to look a lot more closely at the industry and realized that I was no longer a big fan of advertising. In fact, a lot of it really turned me off.
The reason for this was simple. There has been for quite some time now, I’d say since the early 1990s, a profound lack of real inspiration in most agency work. The bulk of the stuff I saw was either an art director’s wet dream or a copywriter’s worst nightmare. Neither of which are good things.
A lot of the cleverness, wit and polish had gone out of it. Not coincidentally, those were the very qualities that gave advertising its appeal and its power for so many years.
Some people argue that the Internet and the advent of digital marketing killed conventional advertising. But I think that’s bullshit, because there’s just as much, if not more, conventional advertising (TV, Radio, magazine and newspaper, billboards and direct mail), as there ever was.
No, it felt more like a big old tire that had simply gone flat somehow and nobody could find a pump.
Not all the advertising was like that. Because there was always that 10 to 20% that still looked like some thought had gone into it. But, really, these percentages were nowhere near what they were back in the 60s, 70s and 80s.
After a while, I found myself becoming turned off by the kind of writing I was doing about advertising. I felt like I was shooting fish in a barrel criticizing this stuff and by that I mean I mean slamming it around and kicking it hard.
So I switched my focus to being more reflective and instructional. But in the back of my mind I kept wondering what it was that caused me to develop such a distaste for something I was a huge fan of for so long.
My Theory On Why A Lot Of Advertising Sucks These Days.
In about 1992, there was a substantial recession that shrunk client budgets and a lot of senior agency people got axed. Many of them went on their own, but a large number also found other things to do outside the business.
What the industry did not do, however, was leave enough senior people to mentor the low-paid replacement people they hired when things started to turn around.
This lack of guidance or mentoring, was the very genesis of the decline and fall of agency advertising. I wasn’t paying much attention because I was busy working, (mostly for marketing agencies), and developing branding for small business clients, as well and writing about movies and TV. But it was happening all the same.
When the next major recession came along, a decade or so later, the agency business did the same thing. Lots of layoffs. No mentors.
And this went on and still goes on to this day. But the difference is that agency creative departments are now populated with people who do not really have any real experience with the so called ‘old school’ forms of advertising, (print, radio, TV, direct mail, out of home etc).
Most of them have no concept of how to create great ideas and synergy between conventional media and the new digital media they are familiar with.
The result. Not just a flat tire, but a total disintegration of the the tire, so that many businesses were riding on their rims, so to speak.
Here Comes The Digital Marketing Boom
This state of affairs made it relatively easy for the new breed of ‘digital marketers’ to penetrate and develop a huge amount of influence on ad agencies. Some digital marketing companies were even purchased by agencies, while others simply attached themselves like pilot fish.
These digital marketers preached the gospel of social media.You know the drill. This is the future. This is where the customers are. But you can’t hard sell them, because they have changed. You have to communicate with them in long form, drowning them with information and insight, building a solid perception of your expertise. Engaging them. Turning them into fans and followers. And then maybe, just maybe you have a shot. Yadda Yadda Yadda.
And oh yeah, we can’t really target all that accurately and the ROI won’t be anything to write home about for at least a year or two. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, don’t you know.
It was a perfect storm. Agency creative people who were comfortable with digital. Digital marketers trumpeting social media as the Next Big Thing. And agency owners and clients with no frame or reference or data to base decisions on because it was all so new.
And so began the digital marketing revolution. Fueled by bullshit. Managed by snake oil salesmen. Bought into by desperadoes.
And advertising? Well it just continued to suffer and I continued to be turned off by it. And I guess, so did everybody else, because its effectiveness declined as digital marketing grew.
Is There Any Hope?
I have a good friend named Barbara Munshaw who is an excellent digital marketer and we have had some long conversations about this situation.
In Barb’s opinion, social media marketing works very well on a local level for businesses who need to attract local customers. Restaurants, specialty stores even some kinds of services.
But she and I both agree that a great many national brands have really been banging their heads against the bathroom wall while their money is being flushed down the toilet. Mostly they are using social media pages as staging site for promotions that they use offline media to create traffic for.
Digital marketers will argue that these companies are not doing it right and by that they mean not throwing enough money at it. But my belief is that brand loyalty is built from great ideas. And great ideas are really what’s lacking here.
There is a certain amount of brand support that a presence on social media will offer to just about every business, but the processes and costs involved are disproportionately high, relative to any direct ROI. It’s pretty simple math really.
Take Your Money & Run?
If you are a national advertiser of any kind, I really do believe that even in this day and age, a huge commitment to social media marketing is pretty much a waste of time and energy.
Lack of targeting. Uber long ROI timelines. Low ROI percentages. An audience that had a decided dislike for bullshit (ie advertising), and are really only on social media to have fun and or communicate with each other. These are not ideal marketing parameters.
Add to this a quote from The Type A Group’s recent newsletter on digital media agencies and you start to get a pretty good picture of what sort of circus this has become.
“The headlong rush by marketers into online advertising without knowing what they are buying, who they are buying it from, what they are getting, or how much they are paying has been an open invitation to slick operators to extract dollars from country-fried clients.”
Some would argue that mobile marketing is the Next Big Thing for advertising in the digital realm. But that could also be bullshit, because an estimated 30 to 40% of all mobile users have installed ad blockers. And that number is growing every day.
But the problem isn’t with social media. Because a lot of businesses are already seeing the the forest for the trees there. The problem is what do you go back to?
Agency creative departments are filled with smart phone babies who are also equipped with a certain amount of disdain for media they refer to as ’old school’.
But I’m not talking to agencies here. Because they have either figured all this out by now or they haven’t. Most haven’t.
I’m talking to SME clients whose businesses have grown to the point where they need to source marketing and communications help. And the only advice I can give these people is the direct result of what I have seen, especially over the last decade when I started paying attention to advertising again.
Everything is cyclical. Every day, companies of all sizes are discovering the real value of digital marketing is much smaller than they were led to believe. And they need some place to go where creative people actually understand how the marketing world works these days but are experienced with the whole advertising spectrum.
Usually these places are ad hoc groups or boutique communications companies, with at least one principal who had been through both wars and understands that communication is about ideas and not just fishing where some digital marketer told you the fish might be.
So the answer to my question: Is The Digital Marketing Bubble About To Burst? is really no. But what is starting to happen is that digital media are finding their place in the spectrum of marketing activity. And right now, that place for a lot of businesses, isn’t all that important in the overall scheme of things.
How your business can benefit from this is very much about developing the right solutions, the best ideas and the appropriate media , not based on some cookie cutter format that digital marketers want to squeeze you into, but through a solid communications strategy that will, in turn, light the way forward.
I am what’s known, in today’s world, as a Communications Navigator. Through my own core skills as a strategist, writer & art director and with the help of a select group of insanely talented associates, I work with primarily B to B clients, large and small to create hard working communications in whatever sector of the marketing universe their strategy dictates the need to travel through. I am also a mentor, blog post editor and a pretty decent photographer.
If you have a marketing or communications challenge you would
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