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David Squires

Traditional Advertising Isn’t Really Dead, Is It?



It has been a while since I enjoyed an advertising/marketing book as much as I enjoyed Bob Hoffman’s “101 Contrarian Ideas About Advertising”. Joyously vitriolic, the writer aims a firehose at a decade’s worth of accumulated hogwash that has risen in the marketing field in the wake of the Internet’s rise. To wit:

Traditional advertising isn’t dead. In fact, more people are watching television than ever — ads and all. Despite the bleatings of a few self-styled online gurus, the rise of the Internet hasn’t changed much for the big marketer. (For instance, there’s a reason most digital marketing companies now call online banner advertising “display advertising” rather than “interactive advertising”. Because people aren’t interacting with it.)

In a book full of rants, here’s one on branding: “There’s very little fun left in the ad business, but one of the big chuckles we still get (secretly) is watcing our clients go through idiotic ‘branding’ exercises. These con games last for months, cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and generally have less impact on business than cleaning the drapes.”

More ranting subjects: Social-media experts are selling “snake-oil”. And the whole idea of creating a “conversation” about your brand? Ridiculous. If you are a pickle manufacturer, your customers want to do only thing with your brand. Put it in their mouths and chew. Don’t overthink this stuff.

Terms the author absolutely hates: ecosystem, conversation, engagement, landscape, seared ahi tuna, and quirky.


Just because social media has exploded in the last five years doesn’t mean that social-media marketing has.

&#8220 I’ve seen thousands of ads that were too complicated or too generic. I’ve never seen one that was too simple or too specific. &#8221

All of the above isn’t true for everybody. There have been a few success stories that we continuously hear about. But they don’t make up for the thousands of failures that nobody has heard about.

The best advertising is strategically wise, creatively pleasing and specific. Example: the iPod, which wasn’t launched as a “world-class mp3 player” or “a whole new way to enjoy music”. Instead, it was presented as “a thousand songs in your pocket”. Bullseye.

Many advertisers don’t quite get that, if given the choice between “world-class service” and “we answer on the first ring”, the more powerful promise is actually the second.

Many service companies (e.g. insurance companies, banks, oil companies) try to create emotional connections by filling their ads with images — mothers cradling newborns, handicapped people competing in athletic events, little boy saluting the flag. Useless cliches. All of ’em. Any one of these companies would get much better results by running an ad that said: “15 minutes could save you 15%”.


Hoffman’s philosophy of advertising: “I’ve seen thousands of ads that were too complicated or too generic. I’ve never seen one that was too simple or too specific.”

There are two kinds of people: people who simplify things and people who complicate them. In most businesses, complicators are annoying. In advertising, they are ruinous.

Take a cue from Apple. In your advertising, show your product benefits. Don’t just say, but prove, how your business is different. And always, always be absolutely yourself.

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