The 5 biggest myths of modern advertising

Tom Goodwin is director of digital marketing consultancy Tomorrow Innovation

Industry sage Jeremy Bullmore’s recent takedown of big data, the latest craze to sweep the ad industry, provides exactly the sort of sensible commentary the industry has been lacking of late. As the industry adapts to digital, the scale of the hyperbole too often outweighs the profoundness of the changes in the marketplace.

Taking inspiration from Bullmore, here are five other hyperbolic statements about the future of advertising that need calling out.

1. TV is dead.
More people watch more TV now than ever before, both in the U.S. and U.K., and they watch it more often and for longer; as a result, TV advertising has never been more valuable. Audiences are more thinly scattered, true. People consume TV content on more devices. Despite the doom and gloom about ad-skipping, most are still viewed. TV is here to stay, but we’d be wise to migrate our way of thinking from TV to video. The notion of “television” generates false boundaries to what’s possible with video advertising when you now consume video in so many new ways.

2. Consumers want conversations with brands.
This is a soundbite so good it scatters the slides of presentations around the world, untainted by the inconvenience of not being based on any facts, or observed behavior. We can see a handful of inane comments that respond to a fabric softener’s question on Facebook if people like Fridays, but the conversations I most often see are those of disgruntled customers, given the microphone to complain that Twitter provides. It strikes me overwhelmingly, with remarkably few exceptions, that for most brands, people want an outcome or resolution, or perhaps information and not a conversation.

3. Brands must create great content
Content marketing is not the answer to all brands’ problems. I don’t look for a beer brand to do a better job of finding me a good bar to go to, or a coffee brand to entertain me. We live in an age with endless, incredible content, where our phones give us access to everything ever made, at any moment in time, normally for free. Brands must find a voice in a world where people are looking to reduce distractions, not seek even more entertainment.

Yes, content must provide value and it should be well made — but it’s not as simple as that. Successful content is likely to be highly personal, distributed well using social connections, and be time- and context-dependent. Branded content is not meritocratic — you can’t say any one piece of content is “better” than another. Perhaps the real test of content is when it’s served, how, who it reaches and what value that provides.

4. Advertising is about storytelling.
Advertising types are wonderful salespeople — so much so, that we’ve bought our own lies. It’s lovely to think of brands as storytellers, and for some brands in some markets this is possible. But let’s not delude ourselves that advertising is not about selling stuff.

5. Advertising spend should be correlated with consumers’ time spent with media.
As an industry, we are obsessed with reaching people wherever they are, but we’ve never used empathy to establish how appropriate that moment is. As the world evolves to spend more time on mobile and online, we’ve assumed the money must follow. Media spend projections for the future bear no resemblance to what seems to be working or not working, and how it’s even possible to spend this much money in these channels.

Things are changing, but we need nuance and wisdom. While nobody gets famous or a promotion saying things are complex or largely unchanged, it’s closer to the truth.