What If Today's Ad Strategies Are All Wrong?

When I studied marketing and advertising back in the late 1980s, the gods of marketing and advertising knowledge were Philip Kotler, Erwin Ephron and Simon Broadbent. Replacing swashbuckling ad men like Leo Burnett, David Ogilvy, Bill Bernbach and others, they helped create the more rational foundations on which many of the biggest brands were built.

P&G, Coca-Cola, Unilever, Marlboro, VW and many, many others benefited from articulating their 4 Ps, which stand for Price, Promotion, Place and People – or, in other words, pricing strategies, promoting the brand (e.g., advertising), distribution (via Place) and target audiences (People). These companies explored better media strategies and plans via optimizing reach and frequency. And they learned from Simon Broadbent’s work on how (and why) advertising worked (consumers hearts and minds).

Of course we now live in a very different era with more touch points, more opportunities to connect, more diversity, more issues to tackle, and so on. New marketing constructs like the 4 Cs, the 8 Ps, or new acronyms like AIDA+ADIA, S.A.V.E. and others have been developed and debated at conferences and in books and white papers.



TV has been declared dead, as has print advertising. Traditional advertising as a whole is also dead, according to some. There were even two brave souls who declared zero paid media as the new marketing model (full disclosure, one of those two brave -- or idiotic -- souls was me, and the other Joseph Jaffe).

As always, none of those declarative statements were fully true. In fact, the more I study new marketing and advertising constructs, the more I am convinced that some of the foundational truths from Messrs Kottler, Ephron and Broadbent are still as true today as they were in the ‘80s and ‘90s.

The environment and the context of the 4 Ps has certainly changed. But in order to build and sell a brand, I believe the construct of the 4 Ps still works pretty well. That the nature of advertising (Promotion) and the makeup and interests of the target audiences (People) have changed does not take away from the fact that you still need to define your message and intended target audience. Never mind that the message will be delivered through a programmatic buy using first, second- and third-party data.

I believe that the growth (explosion) of digital media has made Erwin Ephron’s work more essential than ever before. We all complain about being hammered to death with repetitive ads in digital channels. Frequency pays the agencies and platforms a dividend, but creates overkill (sometimes) for consumers and wasted ad dollars for marketers. There is nothing wrong with thinking through what an effective frequency might look like for your target, and trying to curb some of the runaway delivery.

And “how advertising works” is a lively debate that rages on and on. Can digital ads build brands? Is sponsorship useful or wasteful? And how much of each of the possible connections that could reach your intended target audience is enough? Too much? Not nearly enough? Simon Broadbent would have loved the challenge (and the richness of data today). Many of his insights have stood the test of time.

It is perhaps comforting to realize that “out with the new, in with the old” is true as far as the laws of marketing are concerned.

5 comments about "What If Today's Ad Strategies Are All Wrong?".
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  1. Seth Loonan from Confiant, August 20, 2021 at 1:01 p.m.

    I've always heard that Product, not People is the fourth "P". People - your target audience may be part of Product and/or Place (see Investopia: among other refs). That said, I appreciate your points about "new" versus "older" advertising strategies.

  2. Maarten Albarda from Flock Associates (USA) replied, August 20, 2021 at 5:26 p.m.

    Hey Seth - yes, I have heard of that definition as well. I always liked the one I was taught with "People" in it rather than "Product" as, after all, it is people buying your products. Companies that start product first typically do not fare well... Thanks for contributing to the discussion though. And so perhaps we did (must?) evolve the 4 P's after all?

  3. John Grono from GAP Research, August 20, 2021 at 5:38 p.m.

    Great post Maarten.

    The underlying question is have 'People' changed their consumption patterns that much over the past (say) 50 years?   The consumption channels have certainly changed.   The marketing and advertising channels have certainly changed.

    The thing I am noticing is a growing ennui with advertising per se.   As the media fragments many of the channels have had to shrink.   The solution seems to be ... well run more ads.   It feels like we're increasing frequency while at the same time reach declines.   Lower reach for higher cost doesn't sound like a good plan to me.

    It might take a modern day King Canute  (or an Ephron, Broadbent or Kotler) to turn this around.   Maybe Less IS More.

  4. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, August 20, 2021 at 7:47 p.m.

    Maarten, I wouldn't confuse those who devised brand positionning strategies---like David Ogilvy---which lead to the creative execution of commercials and the various media planning/buying theorists who were primarily concerned with issues such as reach and frequency. The latter almost never delved into the main question --what should we be telling consumers about our brand---which is what most CMOs think advertising is all about.  The two, media planning/buying and "creative", should go hand in hand---- they are not separate activities. But, sadly, this is how we operate. The positioning and "creative" phase rarely considers the media phase---which should involve not only the issue of reach and frequency but the timing of ad exposures, whether we are placing ad messages in the best media environments, whether the ads willl be seen, cost factors, targeting audiences who are most likely to respond to what we are saying, merchandising requirements, etc.etc.

    A case in point is my long time friend and partner,Erwin Ephron, and his "recency" theory---which, by the way, totally unseated its exact opposite, "effective frequency" planning. Based on a number of Nielsen studies which correlated store sales of  some packaged goods brands with household ---set  usage---"ad exposures" over a very short one-week  time frame, Erwin noted that while two or more "exposures" in a week did, indeed, produce more sales than a single "exposure", the gain was not proportional to the added cost. In other words, if a second exposure added 40% in sales but cost twice as much, you were better off with a single exposure. So the ideal media buy was one which tried to maximize one week reach but minimize frequency---if possible holding it down to one. Ok, that's a theory which may apply to some campaigns but not necessarily to many others---it should not be applied universally. Yet that's exactly what happens if the media and "creative" functions are not integrated. You get formulized approaches---sometimes appropriate, sometimes not.

    Until the two disciplines---"creative" and "media" become fully integrated---and we are a long way off on this----we can theorize all we wish about the pitfalls of excessive frequency, the need for reach, etc. as if we are discussing "advertising"---but, inreality, no formula is going to work for every campaign---or stage in a campaign. We've got to be much more brand---or case---specific.

  5. John Grono from GAP Research replied, August 23, 2021 at 7:50 p.m.

    Plus one Ed.

    I clearly recall like it was yesterday when I read my first 'The Ephron Letter' back in 2001.   The edition that I best recall actually introduced me to a great word ... Propinquity.   Erwin was able to express very complex issues with a simple clarity ... but also label it with a stamp of authority.   Needless to say I have been a 'Propinquity Promoter' since.

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