Sam Bradley: Don’t Lose Faith In Advertising

by Jason Falls |

EDITOR’S NOTE: Today’s post is a guest post from Sam Bradley, assistant professor of advertising in the College of Mass Communications at Texas Tech. It was inspired by a comment Bradley left on a previous post at Social Media Explorer, expanded upon by Bradley at my request and now offered here for your reading. Bradley is an expert in the field of cognitive recognition as it relates to media messages. He blogs at Communication & Cognition, is active on Twitter and, frankly, is a lot smarter than most of us.

What he wrote includes some gratuitous compliments of me that, while flattering, I felt awkward editing out. So, please excuse the Jason pimping, though I am thankful for the kind words. Sam will come back and respond in the comments, so be sure to chime in. Then go subscribe to his blog and follow him on Twitter.



Don’t Lose Faith In Advertising

Sam Bradley
Sam Bradley

Jason Falls opened up an excellent conversation when he asked, “Is the future of advertising public relations?” If you read the tea leaves one way, the answer is a definitive yes. Before you write advertising’s obituary, however, allow a possibly outdated advertising professor to channel Monty Python and say, “I’m not dead yet.”

I’m an Ogilvy guy, and I still believe in campaigns. I believe in messages that extend over years, and I believe in relationships.  Ogilvy wrote in 1963, “… Golden rewards await the advertiser who has the brains to create a coherent image, and the stability to stick with it over a long period.” One identity. One voice. Expressed many different ways in many different channels but always tying back to the singular coherent image. Only paid advertising can deliver that consistency and frequency.

I am a huge fan of Kevin Roberts’ idea of Lovemarks, and work in my psychophysiology lab supports his ideas. You connect with brands at a physiological level. Your heart does beat differently when you see a product you love. I’ve measured it. And sadly short-term ROI will almost always undercut these types of relationships. Brand equity is about the long haul. I married my wife “till death do us part,” not for the third quarter.

Real relationships take time. The clothes I wear have been washed in Tide since I was a baby. And you’ll never take Tide from me. It’s silly, but Roberts is right. I love Tide. It’s more a part of my family than most of my aunts and uncles and cousins.

All of this sounds weird coming from a guy who grew up, literally, in my parents’ direct response advertising agency. The first two decades of my life were financed by advertising that got its report card every day: people either returned a card via business reply mail or called a toll-free number, or the ad failed. (And in truth Ogilvy gave a lot of respect to direct response). So I’ve been intellectually puzzled by interactive advertising. I’ve stood at the edge of the stream, watched the water go by, and thought and thought.

We were at first, I think, mesmerized by the fact that we could so easily count each click. It seemed like a panacea in the world of TV, where we have to hope upon shaky Nielsen data knowing all the while that we all go to the bathroom during commercials. Now we just TiVo past them.

And Falls is absolutely right that the banner ad is not the be all, end all.

And Falls is right that the future will be a lot more like the recent effort by P&G to lure Mommy Bloggers to Cincinnati to talk about diapers. And this is, I must admit, mostly a public relations function. I just hate to give away buzz marketing, guerrilla marketing, and pretty much anything cool to the PR folks. It feels as if everyone thinks we ad guys are stuck in an episode of Mad Men. Take away big media buys, and are we really inept?

So what do I teach to my advertising students? Mostly I try to teach critical thinking skills and socialize students to the general problem of paid persuasion. If I get to teach them Advertising 101 as a sophomore, it will be at least two years before they graduate. And the media world changes so quickly. So I must teach them how to solve problems rather than to solve a specific problem.

At Texas Tech, we’re greatly expanding our advertising curriculum in an attempt to deal with this changing environment. We must grow because we cannot begin to give it proper treatment in our current 39 credit hours. And it’s my hope that trying to teach this fast-moving landscape is going to increasingly use technology such as Skype to bring experts such as Jason Falls into the classroom.

So, to bring it back to Ogilvy, I believe in narrative and storytelling. It’s a basic part of human culture, and storytelling dates to antiquity. It’s easy to tell a story in a 30 second television ad. Even a full-page, four-color glossy magazine ad. It’s not so easy online, unless you move into the branded entertainment content. But I do tell stories in my blog, and so do you. The cognitive scientist in me knows that the easily dismissed background clutter makes it into the brain a lot more than you think. But that’s impossible to measure, and that’s pretty difficult to sell a client even when the economy is robust.

I don’t have all the answers – or even most of them. But I believe that 45 years later, Ogilvy is still right. A good relationship takes a good idea and it takes time. But if done right, it produces unsurpassed dividends.

I hope you agree that it’s an awesome challenge. I feel lucky that I get to go to work every day thinking about how advertising is still relevant in a socially mediated world.

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About the Author

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).