Advertising Loses In A Mudslide
The prosecution rests.
For some years now, I have been arguing that advertising is losing its primacy in marketing. This is for a host of reasons, almost all of them arising from digital revolution. In dozens of articles, in hundreds of speaking dates around the world, in a previous book and now in a forthcoming one, I have explored the loss of reach, the loss of attention and above all the loss of trust converging to undermine paid messaging.
It should now be blindingly obvious to every marketer, and to more evolved bipeds, that nothing that comes out of the mouth of a brand or any other institution has remotely the influence of what comes from the mouths of 7 billion bystanders freely trading opinions online.
It now matters very little what you have to say about yourself via slogan, bombastic 30-second spot or pathetically unviral “viral” video. What matters is what the public has to say about you -- based on who the public believes you really are. Which, once again, does not flow from your positioning or your strategy or your tagline. It flows from the brand self you project by all you do, and don’t do, in the actual world.
Or put another way, if people don’t like you, they are no longer eager to do business with you. And in a socially mediated world, not to mention a world of enforced transparency wherein your every move is searchable on Google in perpetuity, you can no longer advertise your way into their wallets, much less their hearts.
As I say, the evidence for these assertions will be cited chapter and verse this spring when Can’t Buy Me Like finally materializes. But -- know what? -- no need to wait. We have just experienced the mother of all case histories.
It came a week ago, and you probably noticed, because it was in all the papers. The presidential election was an electoral drubbing for the Romney campaign, a repudiation for the Republican Party, a humiliation for Karl Rove and his American Crossroads superPACS and a lethal blow to the notion of advertising persuasion. For the past nine months, advertising has intruded, advertising has thundered, advertising has invented, advertising has lied, advertising has smeared, advertising has pleaded, advertising has metastasized.
There is no evidence, based on Tuesday results, however, that it influenced a blessed thing. Persuade? Yes, particularly in the so-called battleground states such as Ohio, Virginia, Florida and Colorado, it persuaded people to tune out advertising. Not a hard deal to close, that.
Let's look at the impact of the $408 million of superPAC money spent on behalf of Gov. Romney and other Republican candidates, according to the final tabulations of the Sunlight Foundation. Remember how the idiotic Citizens United ruling by the Supreme Court (the one that called political spending protected speech) was going to place our fate in the hands of corporations and other special interests? Well, not so far. They foolishly spent the money on attack ads.
The Romney-affiliated Restore Our Future Inc. alone spent $143 million. Rove’s American Crossroads, $105 million. (Meanwhile, superPACS affiliated with the Democrats, chiefly Priorities USA Action, spent a combined $196 million.)
Rove’s superPACS poured cash not only into the failed Romney candidacy but eight Senate races. Six out of eight of those seats went to Democrats. In all, the Dems gained a net two Senate seats and most likely seven in the House. Crossroads, indeed.
The real crossroads here was the demographic reality of 2012 America. The GOP tried to talk to young voters, women, African-Americans (in one unintentionally hilarious spot, we were reminded that Lincoln was the Republican who ended slavery) and especially Latinos. But those messages didn’t resonate, because the Republican candidates’ body language -- including their political histories and astonishing gaffes (“legitimate rape”) -- belied the claims.
It’s hard to persuade Ohio autoworkers that you are a jobs creator when you agitated to bankrupt Detroit. And it’s impossible to reach out to Latinos when you first ask them to provide their documents.
We are now and forevermore in the Relationship Era. What the GOP proved, and what all marketers must at long last internalize, is that you can’t advertise yourself out of a bad relationship.