Saturday, January 19, 2013

Why Hasn't Traditional Marketing Died?

In marketing circles, it's been fashionable for several years to proclaim the impending demise of traditional advertising and marketing tactics. Marketing thought leaders have advanced this view in many of the best known and most influential marketing books published during the past two decades. For example:
  • 1993 - Don Peppers and Martha Rogers, The One To One Future - "We are facing a paradigm shift of epic proportions - from the industrial era to the Information Age. As a result, we are witnessing a meltdown of the mass-marketing paradigm that has governed business competition throughout the twentieth century."
  • 1999 - Seth Godin, Permission Marketing - In this book, Godin argued that all forms of "interruption marketing" have become ineffective, primarily due to the amount of advertising and marketing clutter that fills the environment. Godin wrote, "Is mass marketing due for a cataclysmic shakeout? Absolutely."
  • 2007 - David Meerman Scott, The New Rules of Marketing and PR - Scott argued that the Internet enables organizations to "disintermediate" traditional advertising and marketing methods and reach potential customers directly with low-cost, informative, and interactive online content. He called traditional advertising "A Money Pit of Wasted Resources."
  • 2010 - Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah, Inbound Marketing - "For the last 50 years, companies such as Procter & Gamble, IBM, and Coca-Cola used large amounts of money to efficiently interrupt their way into businesses and consumer's wallets using outbound marketing techniques. The outbound marketing era is over. The next 50 years will be the era of inbound marketing."
Based on these predictions (and many others like them), we would expect to see the use of traditional advertising and marketing methods in a free fall. But that isn't happening. According to a forecast published by ZenithOptimedia in December 2012, worldwide advertising spending will grow from about $482 billion in 2011 to almost $574 billion by the end of 2015. In North America, the firm expects advertising spending to grow from $165 billion in 2011 to $195 billion in 2015.

These estimates cover spending in seven types of media - newspapers, magazines, television, radio, cinema, outdoor, and Internet. Except for the Internet, all of this spending relates to traditional advertising and marketing tactics. According to ZenithOptimedia, the Internet will be second largest category of advertising spending by 2013, but it will still lag behind television by a significant margin (19.8% of total spending for the Internet vs. 40.1% of total spending for TV).

In addition, Winterberry Group has estimated that spending on direct mail (another traditional marketing method) has enjoyed modest annual growth since 2009.

So, what's going on? Were Don Peppers, Martha Rogers, Seth Godin, David Meerman Scott, Brian Halligan, Dharmesh Shah, and many others simply wrong? I don't think so, at least not completely. The projections by ZenithOptimedia and research by Forrester and other firms clearly show that digital marketing, content marketing, social media marketing, and inbound marketing are the fastest growing segments of the marketing industry. And to some extent anyway, they are growing at the expense of more traditional marketing methods and tactics.

It's also clear, however, that many companies - particularly consumer products companies and large B2B firms - are not close to abandoning traditional advertising and marketing methods, even if the effectiveness of those methods is questionable.

I suspect that the relative slowness of change results from a combination of factors.
  • Inertia - There's a lot of inertia in human organizations, especially in large companies. Even when company leaders believe change is needed, it is often implemented gradually and incrementally.
  • Fear - Probably the primary cause of inertia. Even when company leaders recognize the need for change, the fear of the unknown and/or the fear of making a mistake can deter them from implementing change. ("Better the devil you know . . .")
  • Traditional advertising/marketing still works (sort of) - Some marketers may perceive that traditional advertising and marketing methods are still at least somewhat effective, and perhaps they actually are for some companies.
Whatever the cause, traditional advertising and marketing tactics and methods are likely to be with us for quite some time.


  1. Excellent article. As an editor for an international print franchise, I found your conclusions to be not only illuminating but quite helpful. Thanks.

  2. Good article david. Too often books use an exagerated point of view to deliver a point of view. Your article recognizes the shift but also recognizes the momentum and value of traditional marketing. There are now more players at the marketing table. They all have value just who is the best strategist working with the best analytics.

  3. David,
    You are spot on with this analysis. What is often not mentioned, or is completely overlooked is that the definition of traditional media is shifting.

    Yes, traditional print advertising is declining, but that is due to the fact that people are consuming that CONTENT online. Display ads in a news paper or magazine are now becoming display ads (banner ads etc..) on a site, or are still in the digital "magazine" that is being consumed on a digital device. The best part is that the "new ads" can be interactive, allowing for real measurement and even conversion opportunities.

    Direct mail is growing because it still works, and when combined with digital media (via QR Code or even just a link), can allow for very personalized experiences.

    So, I totally agree with you. Traditional Marketing is far from dead. Actually - kudos needs to go out to all the authors you mentioned for their copy writing skills, and their awesome headlines, book titles, and spin on a common thread. See, the basics still work, and always will.

  4. Good points. I particularly agree with comments from RobTrube because of the combination factor. For example many campaigns have abandoned the traditional inbox and as a result what comes to your desk as a direct mail item is now getting considerable less clutter to compete with. In addition if it ties back to and cross pollinates and online and social media campaign the effects can be powerful and a very positive re-enforcement to progress a lead through the qualification funnel.