The Death of Advertising: A Contrarian's View

May. 15, 2012

Thom Villing
Thom Villing

The Death of Advertising: A Contrarian's View

On several occasions, I have lamented our tendency as an industry to accept conventional wisdom as undisputed fact. My favorite example was the continuing belief that the most coveted group among advertisers was the 18-34 demographic. But any contrarian tendencies I may have pale by comparison to a speaker I heard a couple weeks ago at a meeting of marketing agency execs.

His name is Bob Hoffman and he writes a blog entitled The Ad Contrarian. He also has written a book by the same name and one called 101 Contrarian Ideas about Advertising.

The basic premise of the gospel according to Bob Hoffman is that we are like so many lemmings blindly accepting that mass marketing in the form of advertising and most traditional forms of marketing communications is dead.  One of his favorites is reflected in a quote from Jeff Jarvis, journalism professor and former TV critic who said, “Advertising is a failure. When you don’t have that good relationship (with consumers), then you have to advertise.”  This quote is much like another I have heard to the effect, “Advertising is a tax for being unremarkable.” To that kind of thinking, Hoffman not so delicately says, “Bullshit.”

Hoffman responds to this definition of failure by asking, “Did you know Apple and McDonald’s are failing and Proctor and Gamble and Geico are failing? I didn’t know that. Silly me. I thought they were doing okay.”

There are far more examples of Hoffman’s contrarian views than space allows here. But another one speaks to the death of television as a viable marketing medium due to the rise of DVRs and alternative video viewing channels. To which he points out that 98 percent of video is still viewed on television. And while the majority of households do not even have DVRs, even those that do still watch live TV 95 percent of the time.

I haven’t checked his facts, but I have ordered his book and intend to do more research. It should be interesting. And while I may not buy all his contrarian viewpoints, I think it is always healthy to consider that conventional wisdom is sometimes more perception than reality. After all, humankind once accepted the fact that the world was flat as conventional wisdom. Thank goodness, it was wrong or we may have all fallen off the edge of the planet by now.

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