Advertising and marketing are broken: how do we fix them?

So much advertising and marketing is based on false promises and exaggeration. This sort of corporate propaganda is facing an increasing backlash.

“$40 billion is spent on digital advertising in the US on an annual basis, while between $2 and 5 billion is spent on designing services,” Chris Risdon of Adaptive Path recently stated. “So, we set a big expectation and then don’t deliver.”

Traditional advertising and marketing are the dinosaurs of the digital and social world. They are annoying, disruptive, time-wasting, and for most people most of the time they are absolutely useless. Even when it’s working and communicating a message to an interested audience, marketing and advertising invariably over-promise and under-deliver.

A lot of marketing thinking is based on the belief that people are irrational, emotional fools. The best marketing, some marketers believe, fools people without them even knowing they’ve been fooled. “I know I’ve totally hit the nail on the head,” I heard one marketer gush, “when I hear a consumer say: “I want to buy this brand and I don’t even know why.” According to some marketers, that sort of psychological manipulation is the essence of marketing and branding.

It’s true. We are irrational, emotional fools. For years, we’ve demanded to be fooled. We only wanted to buy from companies that fooled and tricked us with dream landscapes, inflated promises, and constant bling.

The Internet is the reflection of a maturing consumer. With the Web, the consumer has moved out of the Age of Adolescence, because the Web is the place we go to compare, to dig deeper, to get advice from our peers, to search, to research.

That’s why traditional marketing and advertising are so out-of-sync with the Web, and why they’re becoming desperate. That’s why we have the ‘new’ concept of “native advertising” which is advertising that’s pretending not to be advertising. More foolish tricks. That’s why we have ads that stalk you around the Web. That’s why we have ads that stalk you as you scroll down the page. That’s why we have ads that burst forth in the middle of the page, having slyly hid themselves between two paragraphs.

It’s an attention arms race out there on the Web, and traditional advertising and marketing can nuke the world, but in the end they’re going to lose. They’re going to degrade our trust in organizations to such a degree that many brands will become toxic.

So what’s the future for marketing and advertising? Usefulness, honesty, integrity, truthfulness.

According to a October 2014 of 12,000 people in 12 countries by Cohn & Wolfe, “the No. 1 quality or behavior which people demand of big brands is: Communicating honestly about products and services.”

“I think most of our notions of advertising carry with them the assumption that advertising is interruptive and irrelevant,” Facebook’s director of product design, Margaret Gould Stewart states. According to Stewart, advertising is a “hugely wasteful industry.”

Stewart’s vision? “If you can just close your eyes and think about walking through an environmental space, thinking what if we reduce that to only the things that are relevant to me — that starts to become a highly valuable and engaging experience. It’s more quiet.”

More relevant. More useful. Simpler, quieter, with a focus on quality and honesty. It’s not an impossible dream. It is, in fact, a slowly unfolding reality.

The Number One Thing Consumers Want From Brands? Honesty

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