Is Advertising "Cool?"

As the debate has skidded to a halt (thankfully) on the value of the Internet as a Branding or a Direct Response medium, I have started to have some little epiphanies about our world and whether or not what we do is "cool."

I am a true proponent of the concept that Branding and DR are one and the same in today's attention deprived world where your every impression should serve to drive a response, whether immediate or delayed, but I have started to notice that some companies are coming online and not paying as close attention to accountability. What does this mean, and more importantly am I comfortable with this?

At first I was very uncomfortable with it -- I was raised to track everything! I was taught that every reaction had an explanation and that advertising is always to be proven effective or not based on a tangible result. The concept that something can be considered "cool" to be effective is as foreign to me as a Peanut Butter and Banana sandwich in Rome. Even when I deal with a purely "branding" campaign (if these exist), we utilize some sort of measurement to track propensity to buy, ability to raise awareness, etc. These are proven methods of measuring performance and building brand equity. These I was comfortable with, but the intangibility of advertising without a measurable goal...? This was an anathema to me.



Then I had an epiphany. I went back and checked out some of the sage advice from the years gone by of Advertising Guru's who were much smarter than I...

"Advertising isn't a science. It's persuasion. And persuasion is an art." - Bill Bernbach

This went back to one of my old statements that Advertising is indeed the perfect union between Science and Art. Bill Bernbach is certainly much smarter than I am, but is it possible that what he said still applies in this drastically changed world? Is it possible that an element of persuasion is simply evaluated by what one person considers to be "cool?" That would mean that peer pressure is basically like advertising telling you that something is "cool." I recognize that "cool" is not a truly measurable advertising term, but for years products have been sold and markets have been built on the basis of what is considered to be "cool." In fact, just about every youth-targeted brand that is successful is successful because someone determined it was "cool".

Websites used to battle for the prestige of being named "Cool Site of The Day," but they were not really "cool" until a large number of people saw them. Until they were seen by many, many people, they were niche, but is it possible that niche can be "cool"? Most people would argue that niche can be "cool," much in the way that the alternative has always been considered to be "cool" (i.e. alternative music, alternative rock, alternative press). The opposition will argue that "cool" is no longer "cool" when everyone is doing it, it is now outdated. By that argument, though, what's "cool" is no longer "cool" and therefore if advertising is too effective and seen by too many people, too many times, then it is no longer "cool."

This argument can be rationalized when we examine that a truly effective campaign has a limited window of opportunity to be "cool" and still be considered effective. Remember "Where's the Beef" and the Taco Bell Dog? They were "cool" until they were played out, and then they became no longer "cool" (though they did become cult, which is also an entirely different argument).

So based on this circular discussion, I come to the conclusion that advertising can be "cool", and "cool" can be persuasive, but "cool" is not tangible. Sales and market share are tangible. The Taco Bell dog was "cool", but he did not sell Tacos? The "Where's the Beef Lady" was relatively cool, and she did sell some burgers, but in the long run she became tired.

Was my epiphany truly an epiphany or simply a momentary lapse of reason?

Sales are "cool."

This argument is "cool."

Advertising is "cool."

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