The Monday Morning Memo: The Future of Advertising - An Open Letter to Advertisers from The Wizard of Ads

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By Roy H. Williams

Google tells me it was the often-quoted Greek orator, Anonymous, who first said, “The only thing constant is change.”

Though I agree that change is ever with us, it cannot be said that it’s truly “constant,” for such a word would imply that change happens at an unchanging speed. Change within a society accelerates and decelerates like a roller coaster; slugging and clanging up a tedious hill of evolutionary progress to reach the critical tipping point, that eye-of-the-storm where begins the careening, wounded-duck plummet that is the always-messy signature of a paradigm shift. Late 2003 was just such an eye-of-the-storm tipping-point signaling the arrival of the current paradigm shift, our first in 40 years.

The game of successful advertising has never been easy, but it’s about to become a game for masters. Here’s why:

1. New technologies are making it harder than ever for local advertisers to reach people with their advertising messages. The benefit of successful branding is that your “branded” product or service becomes the one people think of immediately and feel the best about when they finally need what you sell. Neurologically, branding occurs in long-term, involuntary procedural memory, the product of salience (relevance, impact) times repetition. (In other words, the weaker your message, the more repetition is required.) Yesterday’s luxuriously low cost of reaching the masses allowed advertisers to be undisciplined in the creation of their messages because they could easily compensate for it with greater repetition. Those days are drawing to a close.

2. Although the number of people reached by your advertising will decline, the cost of that advertising will rise. Is this fair? No, but it’s what you can count on. Consequently, thoughtfully constructed marketing strategies and well-written ads will become more important than ever. From coast to coast, I’m sensing widespread anxiety among local retailers regarding the efficiency of the media, and rightfully so. They’re looking for the next big thing, but all of the big things out there are national and international only; none are locally targeted. It took 44 years, but it seems Marshall McLuhan’s global village has finally arrived.

3. Your customer has become immune to the traditional language of advertising. Face it, we’ve heard it all before. Hype and unsubstantiated claims are falling on increasingly deaf ears. It is more important today than ever for you to develop a relationship with a talented advertising professional, someone who will help you implement the wisdom of the immortal Bill Bernbach, who said, “I’ve got a great gimmick. Let’s tell the truth.” Carl Rogers echoed this idea when he said, “What I am is good enough, if only I would be it openly.”

And what you are is good enough, too. Be it openly. 

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