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The Outsiders

10 October 2009 2 Comments

Digital is not the solution.

Despite what you might read in the trade press (especially Ad Age where every second article is about Twitter and those that aren’t mention Twitter two or three times), digital is not the solution to all of advertising’s problems.

If anything, digital is the best representation of the problem.

And that problem is audience dispersion.

What is brilliant about the Internet (and, from an advertising point of view, its Achilles’ heel with an added helping of Achilles’ athlete foot) is that it is, for all intents and purposes, infinite.

jeepparkingmeterWhen I first registered my domain back in the mid 90s, I liked to tell people, “I have a web site; General Motors has a web site.”

Little ol’ me was on equal footing with one of the world’s largest corporations. (Or at least they were at the time.)

And with that kind of ultra-level playing field, what are the chances of enough people coming across an advertising message in an infinite space, especially when it is not being pushed to them?

Search only works if you already know something exists to search for it in the first place!

And leaving things to chance is probably not the best of all possible media plans.

But let’s jump back a bit.

I recall reading that back in the 50s some crazy number like 60% of the entire US population watched the I Love Lucy episode in which the Ricardos became parents.

That’s a lot of eyeballs to advertise to, even if only in black & white. Hey Luuuuuuucy, indeed!

But by the time the 90s rolled around, TV was well and truly fractured.

“The 500 Channel Universe” was the buzzword amongst the annoying types who use buzzwords.

And the number of magazines exploded. I once saw – I swear to God this is true – a magazine devoted to rubber stamp collecting.

That was all bad enough.

Then the Internet started to mature.

Newspapers disappeared and reappeared online supported only by banner ads – which we all know aren’t terribly effective (although some of us have been a bit late figuring that one out).

Magazines are now thinner than the Harley, ON phonebook.

TV is all over the place in terms of quantity and quality. The Internet is infinite. Twitter is the ones and zeroes equivalent of having a thousand nattering voices in your head. I have yet to meet anyone who uses Facebook and actually interacts with marketers on same. Everybody talks about iPhones but very few have them. And on top of it all, Billy Mays keeps shouting at me from beyond the grave.

Now it’s not all doom and/or gloom.

Targeting special interests is easier than ever.

Guitar players?

Guitar magazines, web sites, how-to videos on YouTube, even some shows on cable TV provide a direct conduit to your audience.

But what about soft drink imbibers? Where do you find them? Apart from everywhere?

Indeed, where do you find a decent audience for any general appeal product?

Interestingly, there is one medium for which the dynamics have remained unchanged.


Every day each of us wends his way to work, school or someplace we’d rather our friends and family didn’t know about, and every day we pass the same outdoor boards – and more importantly, their messages – again and again.

And in addition to relevance, what makes advertising work but repetition?7UP-Pool

Out of sheer necessity, outdoor is advertising messaging in its most effective form: simple and concise.

7Up is refreshing. Jeep is 4×4. The Weather Network knows weather.

Of course, nothing is perfect.

The one thing outdoor can’t do is explain unfamiliar concepts or complex propositions.

A rewards program, for instance, especially before anyone knew what a rewards program is.

But not to worry.

Just point ‘em to a website.

Digital is not the solution.

But when properly employed in concert with other mediums, it can definitely be a part of it.


- Craig Cooper


  • Matt Hanson said:

    Good writing. Keep up the good work. I just added your RSS feed my Google News Reader..

    Matt Hanson

  • David Shearer said:

    A great post, Craig. And a point well made. When new technologies come along, people always say it’s the beginning of the end for the older ones. The arrival of photography is a classic example. Painters and artists were the ones that kept record of the great moments and important people of the era. It was the primary source of revenue for those that called it their profession. Then photography came along and it was hailed as the end of artists. It would cripple their business and photography would take over everything. What photography actually did was free up the artists from the ‘administration’ of record keeping. Cubism, surrealism, and every other great moment in art history ensued. Indeed, would many of the great artists who are now household names created their great works had it not been for the invention of photography? An interesting question, no?

    So I absolutely agree – posters are a great and valuable medium. They can do things that no website or online space can achieve. They are as valuable as ever – it’s just the ecosystem in which they live that has evolved as new species have arrived. It will be interesting to see how they adapt to the change…

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