The conventional wisdom is that traditional advertising is wounded and dying at the feet of innovators like Google AdSense and Word of Mouth Marketing. The NYTimes continues its role as a media and technology hype machine today with its coverage of the Word-of-Mouth Marketing Association meeting:
Speakers with titles like “marketing medic” or “manager of influencer marketing” extolled the effectiveness of nontraditional tactics in an industry that has all but declared the 30-second TV commercial obsolete.
Without a doubt, the advertiser’s tool kit has gotten a lot more powerful — and accountable — in recent years. Word-of-mouth marketing was around long before blogs, but the blogosphere has wired the power of word of mouth, the techniques are getting increasingly sophisticated, and companies like Intelliseek and Buzzmetrics have innovated measurement.
Despite all the innovation, traditional brand advertising is not about to go away. Take companies like BMW, Prada, Apple, Coke, and Intel. These companies are successful brand builders, but they would be hard pressed to achieve elite brand status solely on the marketing strength of Google text ads and “buzz” conversations. Many brands are intensely visual — BMW, Prada, and Apple have built their brands to a large degree on visual appeal. Without traditional display advertising (whether print, Web, or video), there is no way to develop and control the visual appeal.
And control is precisely the issue. The viral power of word-of-mouth marketing can certainly achieve tremendous reach at a fraction of the cost, but I suspect few brands will want to cede control over how they appear by giving themselves over completely to WOM techniques. Brand advertising is like the PR exec that continuously “seeds the conversation” with well-crafted imagines. You can’t control the conversation, but you can do your best to manage your appearance.
I have to give the Times reporter credit for not believing the hype too much:
But replacing traditional advertising with word-of-mouth and viral marketing is an outlandish notion for most companies.
The real challenge for advertising is to finally come up with an industry standard for measuring the ROI of brand advertising — experience tells us that it works, but that isn’t going to cut it in a highly measurable digital media world.