In 10 years of copywriting and consulting with clients, I can't think of a single instance where a traditional print ad made a meaningful contribution to a client's marketing and sales ambitions....
Not one. (Okay, perhaps one or two. But these were very deep-pocketed clients who could afford to commit to the kind of long-term advertising it takes to build critical mass.)
Case in point: I've been working with an agency assigned to generate qualified leads for a vendor in the M&A industry. The agency was able to track the source of every single lead that came through the door (or phone, e-mail, web, etc.).
So how did it break out?
Direct mail was number one in effectiveness.
Direct e-mail was number two.
Telemarketing was third.
Responses to the print ad were at the very bottom of the list. And the ads were the most expensive component of the campaign. It's worth repeating: Most expensive and least effective.
But perhaps the ads helped lift the response rates of the other devices by softening the field with branding? It's not impossible, but I'm not sold on its likelihood. Given the impulsiveness that drives response, I suspect that people either reacted favorably to the direct vehicles or did not. I doubt that the vague recollection of an ad made much of a difference.
So what works? Direct works. PR works. Certain Web and electronic media strategies work. Coordinated sales/marketing activities/events/networking works. But I'm very skeptical about the effectiveness of advertising, at least the way it has been practiced in the last 50 years, as a real marketing/sales force.
What about brands and branding? Powerful stuff -- I just question the ability of advertising to be the brand builder it once was. The biggest brands of recent years -- such as Microsoft, Starbucks, eBay -- were built on just about everything else but advertising. And some of the biggest ad spenders of all time, the American automobile manufacturers, are teetering on the edge of bankruptcy -- despite continued enormous investments in advertising. Have you driven a Ford lately? Do you care?
So . . . what say you? Does advertising still mean anything? If so, how? Or how should it change to become relevant once again?