Left Bay’s Musings on the Media

Searching for answers in sales and marketing

Traditional Brand Advertising is Dumb

I’m a reformed brand marketer. In a previous life, I sold advertising for a magazine called Communication Arts. Selling advertising used to be fairly easy – if company doing B2B marketing wanted to reach its customers, it looked for targeted publications like ours. The fact that Communication Arts was a paid publication and not just a give-away controlled circulation magazine made it all the more valuable. We didn’t have to show that the ads would be effective – all we had to do was provide the audience. Most advertisers found it difficult to quantify the value of their advertising because, well, print advertising was just so hard to measure. The best indicator was sales: if sales went up the following month or year or at least stayed the same, well, the advertiser usually felt their advertising worked. That was branding.

Analytics were always in short supply. The main measurement was determining what the cost-per-thousand (CPM) was to reach our audience. CPM is determined by ad cost divided by circulation per thousand subscribers. Example: An ad might cost $10,000. Circulation is 65,000. CPM = $10,000 / 65 (thousand) = $153.85 CPM. But what’s that mean? Nothing really, except that one publication might be more expensive to buy than another. Does it say anything about which publication sold more effectively? No, of course not.

Some advertisers would put in 800-phone numbers. And everyone had URLs listed in their ads.

But these were dumb ways to buy (and measure) advertising. The smarter way to buy is to go out and do cost-per-click advertising (CPC).

The great thing about CPC advertising is that everything is measurable. You know not only how many people saw your ad, but who clicked on it. Done right, you can custom which page they land on and how they travel through your web site. You know at which point they leave your site, or if they make it all the way through to your conversion event or whatever it is you want them to do.

Print advertising will continue to have a rough time making the kinds of returns it once did. And for that matter, so will other “measured” media like print, TV, radio and online banner ads. In a 3/14/07 article of The Wall Street Journal, it was reported that the nation’s 50 biggest advertisers had cut their spending on “measured” media. Instead, more and more of the money was going to paid-search (CPC) advertising, social networking and online video.

What advertisers seem to be saying is that either they’ll find a medium where they can track their sales (like paid-search), or else experiment with something that’s new and different. But the old ways of advertising and branding, well, they just won’t work any longer.


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