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Traditional advertising and its many shortcomings

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We took to the streets of Edinburgh to find out if people know what The Yellow Pages is (the title slightly gave it away), whether they have one at home and if they still use it… The results? It's not quite a museum piece yet but, for those of us over the age of 30, it's probably the most obvious example of traditional advertising being completely kyboshed by the internet.

Of course, though search engines are not an exact replacement for the internet, there are some key differences between search engines and The Yellow Pages:

1. Search engines are not restricted in size - they don't have to fit into a book, which means we are all subject to the 'shopping around' phenomenon.

2. Search engines are not restricted to geographical location - you are now competing against the whole world, not just your local area.

But there is a more subtle difference. With The Yellow Pages, it was invariably a case of 'he who paid the most won'. The bigger the advert, the more calls you got - simple.

With search engines, on the other hand, you only get to appear if you merit that place. For example, imagine if you were to do a search for ‘buy books online’ and Amazon didn't come up. That would begin to knock your faith in Google. And if you kept on doing searches and none of the obvious people appeared there, you would gradually lose faith in Google and move on to use a different search engine. Relevancy is highly important to Google.

How about mailshots?

Do you pop them straight in the recycling bin by any chance?

In days gone by, when the takeaway menu came through you might have pinned that up on your board. But we suspect that you don't do that any more (at least to the same extent), simply because if you need that information the up-to-date menu is only a couple of clicks away.

How about house insurance? Even if you get a mailshot that hits you right about renewal time, will you really pay attention to it? We’d argue that you have already got a relationship with your insurance provider and, if you did decide to change, there are a huge number of options available to you online. Why would you pay attention to something that is just one of many options?

This bombardment of material is also making us increasingly irritated. So, not only are you risking wasting your money with flyers and traditional advertising, but you are also starting to risk damaging your brand.

TV adverts

We have all seen the sofa warehouse adverts on TV. Do you buy into the quality of them? Do you believe the offers? We suspect not! The reason is that you have built up subconscious 'hype filters'. You have an ability to screen these things out. But it's not just about the subconscious filters; we also now have technical filters to screen stuff out. SkyPlus is a perfect example. You can simply settle down to watch XFactor half an hour after it's started and miss out all the adverts.

Let's look at some evidence. If you look at the graph below, you can see that advertisers have voted with their feet in terms of newspapers and removed their adverts from them in the last few years. 

So what's happened?

  • we now have a huge huge number of options if we are looking to buy, whether that is B2B or B2C
  • we now have the tools for research
  • we have technical filters and a natural immunity

All this leads to a dramatic decrease in the effectiveness of advertising. 

Don't get us wrong, offline advertising isn't dead. Though it does still have a place, it is a bedraggled version of what it was before.

But it's also happening online

This isn't just an offline phenomenon - the same storm has hit online too. You pay no more attention to a banner advert than you did to the sofa advert on TV.  

Technical filters are online as well. We have Adblockers to screen out adverts and we have spam filters for our inboxes.  Right now, we are still at the very beginning of the technological revolution that will prioritise the information we consume, so we only see the information that is truly relevant to us. Chances are it's going to get more and more difficult to get offers or newsletters to be read, whether our prospect opted into them or not.

The problem here is not the medium and it's not the fact that it is offline or online - it's the approach. The internet may be responsible for changing the way we make purchases but that doesn't mean that doing the same online as we have always done offline is always going to work. Purchase decisions are now taken very differently and we need to align our marketing with that. How these decisions are taken is the subject of the next section...see you there.


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