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From Overwhelmed to AI-nspired


That question raises ire in all but the most sanguine marketer. Branding dead? That's pure heresy.

Actually branding will never die—it's the tools and the means by which we typically use them to achieve the goal of branding that are, in fact, obsolete.

What's worse, every tool and technique we've spent our careers learning—useless or not—is under new scrutiny: a new, mathematical, quantitative, hard-core, squirm–in-front-of-your-CFO scrutiny. After the wreckage has been removed, even the slowest amongst us will discover it is disruptive marketing that has died.

Few of us got into marketing because of our math chops. Ironically, it is the quantitative methods we dread that will save us.

That said, let's review the technologies that are silencing our branding initiatives.

TiVo: Believe whatever hype you want, TiVo and other hard disk video recording devices aren't going away. Nor is technology that allows TV viewers to skip commercials.

There will be much hand wringing and gnashing of teeth over the next few years, but know this: you can never un-ring the technology bell. That genie is not going back in the bottle no matter what Jack Valenti says. Ask any record company executive. We think TiVo may be the best thing to happen for a lot of brands since "gift with purchase.”

Telezappers and Caller ID: No more telemarketing—Demon dialers have been rendered functionally useless. People have too little leisure time to listen to your phone pitch at dinner. Time to find a new channel. Morn the innocent researcher who is already packing his bags in search of new methodologies.

MP3 players: While radio continues to deliver both value (relative to TV) and speed for traditional advertisers, music as the primary content for radio stations is in the final stage of decline. Commercial breaks are reaching unlistenable lengths. Radio will still remain viable, but not as a music delivery channel.

If a station isn't selling something unique besides music, you probably need to look elsewhere.

Don't forget the diffusion of satellite either. XM most probably will have 500,000 subscribers and $300 million in new financing by the time you read this—and Sirius is just getting started.

Pop up blockers and Spam filters: Just when you thought it was safe to go online. Crushing quantities of Spam have virtually killed the email channel. Unless you were smart enough to build your own email list of customers over the past three years, your ability to grow your business by mailing to a purchased “double opt-in list” is pretty much done.

Pop-up ads are the kiss of death and search engine optimization is ubiquitous. Time to re-boot.

The old circular file: Direct mail has priced itself into the stratosphere. Most snail-mail boxes are so filled with poorly targeted trash that getting seen is nearly impossible.

Additionally, the government has quietly recognized its role as ad server and continues to raise the bar on the incremental costs associated with direct mail. Direct mail has probably suffered the least of all traditional channels in terms of response metrics, but you better know precisely what you're doing and to whom you are communicating.

None of this is to say that traditional channels are useless—quite the opposite. In the coming months we'll examine each of the traditional marketing channels—as well as some new ones—and discover new ways to challenge the old assumptions and leverage the indisputable truth about branding: that familiarity, context, and meaning demonstrates value and lowers the risk associated with the purchase decision. We just need new ways to justify and implement messaging that serves those timeless goals.

Sure, commoditization is running rampant and the technology that protects consumers from the barrage of unwanted product offerings will continue to be adopted at unprecedented rates.

You can still get your message out. Tactical opportunities like long-form advertising, advergaming, persistent branding and product placement all will contribute significantly to tomorrow's media mix.

Leaders will drive pricing models for these tactics that demonstrate value. The win for everyone is a consumer who no longer feels like the marketing process is confrontational.

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Tom Barnes is CEO of Mediathink (, a consultancy specializing in media and marketing strategy and implementation. Contact him at