I typically visit a number of technology sites to learn about new technology, Internet companies and products – not to learn about marketing. So I was a bit amused the other day when I saw that TechCrunch (a technology site) was trying to talk about marketing and advertising. To do this, they enlisted a guest writer who is a professor of operations management at Wharton. I guess anybody can be a marketing expert. The problem, of course, is that not everybody is a marketing expert and thus you get a retread of old ideas.
Here is the basic idea that sparked hundreds of comments – advertising is failing on the internet. The reasons for this, according to the article is that consumers don’t trust advertising, don’t want to view advertising and don’t need advertising. This was followed up by some comments about other business models, which, as expected, includes more targeted advertising (like people haven’t been trying to do this for decades, which they have).
As point of fact, these are not even vaguely new ideas. Firstly, it has long been known (at least since I started teaching marketing 20 years ago) that advertising messages from commercial sources are less trustworthy than other sources (e.g., friends, independent rating agencies, etc.). Second, there has never been any doubt that consumers don’t want to view advertising. Except for the Super Bowl and certain magazine advertising, people have long found advertising to be intrusive …. unless of course it is there to provide information at a time when people need it.
Finally, do people need advertising? That depends. Some do and some don’t. Sure, they can get information about product offerings from rating sites (like the TechCrunch article says), but they have always gotten it from lots of others sources as well. Beyond this, however, is that advertising has many roles, only one of which is to inform. Advertising can be useful for brand loyalty, brand awareness, etc.
There are two points I’m trying to make. First, technology sites should stay focused on technology and not venture into marketing since, well, they tend to recreate the wheel and confuse people. Second, and more interesting, is that history shows us that predictions and dire warnings are likely to be either wrong or overly pessimistic. Remember how paper was going to disappear computers came along, or that every company would be disintermediated, or that radio would disappear (along with bookstores and pet food stores). I know people like to scare people with dire, end of world warnings (it makes for great book sales – remember “The End of Marketing as We Know It” or lots of internet comments), but it doesn’t help marketers or companies market their products and services better.
As an example of dire predictions, at least 7 years ago people said that banner ads were finished. I wrote my skeptical reaction to this, which you can read here. Of course, banner ads continued despite the dire warnings.
Note, that since YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, for example, rely on ad revenues (which aren’t that big, according to this article), if internet advertising fails, social media sites will lose their ability to survive.
So, what’s your take on this (at least I know I’m talking to marketing – rather than a technology – audience)? Is advertising on the internet failing? Is it going to die? If so, what will replace it?