Memo to Madison Avenue: Targeted Advertising Is Still Advertising

Rick Burnes
Rick Burnes



incremental change In the 1950s and 60s, as transcontinental commercial aviation began to take off, the shipping companies that dominated travel between continents launched some of the biggest and fastest ocean liners ever .

Of course, bigger and faster didn't save the industry. The market wasn't looking for a better ocean liner, it was looking for a better way to travel. Speed and size were incremental responses to disruptive changes.

Today, there's a similar story unfolding in the marketing world.

Just as jet engines developed during World War II changed the travel industry, web applications that make content creation and sharing simple are changing the marketing industry.

Small and large businesses in every industry are discovering a series of reasons why content-based inbound marketing is a more effective way to generate sales than traditional advertising:

  • Advertising is product driven; inbound marketing is consumer driven.
  • Money is the critical factor in advertising; creativity is the critical factor in inbound marketing.
  • Advertising produces brow-beaten customers; inbound marketing produces passionate customers.
  • Advertising leaves wasted time in its wake; inbound marketing leave quality content in its wake.

You wouldn't know this change is taking place if you spoke with the folks who have most embodied marketing for the last 50 years -- the advertising industry.

As The New York Times reported this weekend , the leading lights of the advertising industry are focused on using data and tracking technology to improve the effectiveness of advertising units.

"Major advertising holding companies like WPP, the Publicis Groupe, Havas, MDC Partners and the Interpublic Group are starting data practices, hoping to latch onto what is expected to be the fastest-growing category of online advertising in the next five years," The Times' Stephanie Clifford wrote.

Data and targeting. Sounds great. There's just one problem: Like faster ocean liners, it's an incremental response to a disruptive change.

Certainly targeted advertising is better than advertising that is not. And certainly forms of it will persists the same way ocean liners persist today in the form of cruise ships.

But businesses are not seeking better advertising -- they're seeking better ways to market. Today that need is most efficiently met with content that acts like a magnet for customers, not advertising that acts like a sledge hammer, beating them over the head with a message.

Photo: SS Michelangelo, an Italian ocean liner built in 1965. ( Wikipedia )

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