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BellaOnline's Small Office/Home Office Editor

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Is Traditional Advertising Dead?

Guest Author - Deborah Crawford

Pundits have forecasted for years that traditional “interruption-style” advertising is dying. The “Internet” is blamed for most of the downfall, but consumers have been eager for commercial-free television and radio for years before we all got online. The Internet is changing the way we get information, and is a force to be reckoned with—it will not go away and it will not stop evolving. Other media will have to change, too. I wonder if it will change for the better?

Think about traditional media – newspapers, the “yellow pages”, and of course, TV and radio. Do you still read your local daily paper? How about USA Today, The Wall Street Journal or another national paper? Or, do you get your news online?

Do you keep the “yellow pages” or “white pages” of the phone book within arm’s reach? Or, do you look up numbers and websites online?

Do you watch your local news? Or CNN? Or another cable news program?

Do you listen to the radio or do you listen to CD’s or MP3’s?

For most of us, it’s still a mix. We might read Sunday’s paper, or whatever day the grocery ads come out. We might watch some network news and a lot of CNN during crisis periods. We listen to the radio in the car or perhaps we already have satellite radio or maybe we’ve got our iPod strapped to our shoulders. And, we’re reading the news online in record numbers.

I routinely recommend decreasing phone directory advertising for many of my clients, and have for years for several types of business. If your customers do not use the directories to make buying decisions, then you can better spend those dollars on other marketing actions to reach them, If you are the only display ad in your category, you will probably do fine with perhaps a bold listing instead of the display.

For some, a display ad is necessary, but color tends not to draw any more response than black & white. Ask your sales rep how you can get prime placement for your display ads, too. Your phone directory ads may be essential, but tracking your results is the only way to be sure. (And, the quality of your ad will make a difference in your response rates. See How to Write Effective Ads.) And, check out the online directory listing that comes with your ads--are you in prime position or do you need to upgrade your online phone directory ad?

Many businesses have sworn by their classified or display ads in their local papers for years, and depending on both the business and the community, that may still work. Again, tracking your results is essential.

Growing businesses are finding out that TV and radio advertising might be cheaper now, but there are real questions as to whether it’s effective even if less expensive. What channels does your target market watch, and how often?

Big-money advertisers are in the same scramble to find effective ways of marketing their products (and have more cash to spend) and they are facing these same issues. So, they are turning to product placement in many instances. Perhaps you’ve noticed on some of your favorite shows that they promote specific brands, either blatantly (we use Brand XX—it’s the best!) or in a more subtle way by just showing the product throughout the program. Video games are now coming in two forms--$50 for an ad-free game and $20 for a game with “product placement”—brand-name soda machines woven into the game.

My Grandmother was a life-long fan of Dr. Pepper, and years ago when they had the “I’m a Pepper” campaigns, she really hated those commercials. But, she loved the product before the commercials and continued to drink it. I see commercials today and I am appalled at the levels the writers will go to in order to get a viewer’s attention. They may get my attention, but it’s not good attention. I wonder “what are they thinking?” frequently.

A college professor told me many years ago that the country’s best psychology majors are not working in clinics; they are working on Madison Avenue. That’s even truer today. But, I have to wonder what kinds of focus groups are telling them that some of these commercials are more effective than downright annoying.

Even the internet, the baby in the ad game, has annoying advertising practices. How many of you have installed pop-up blockers on your PC? And, how many of you avoid websites that make you go through several ads before you find any valuable information?

In our stressed-out, time-crunched world, interruption ads are just interruptions that we cannot afford. We do not have time to read, watch, or listen to ads for products for which we have no interest or need. And, we are beginning to feel offended that companies assume we do.

So, what’s a business owner to do?

First of all, before you buy advertising space anywhere, think about it. Think about how you make buying decisions. Ask your customers how they make buying decisions. Interruption advertising and other forms of traditional advertising will continue to get cheaper, but it won’t necessarily be a good value.

But, you still have to “get the word out” so you can get new customers and let old customers know you’re still around, right? I’m not suggesting you abandon your current advertising actions. I do suggest you explore other possibilities. Advertising is just one arm of marketing. Relationship-building, networking, direct sales, public relations, sponsorships, information and education, websites, blogs, special events, mailings (both snail and email), telesales (within the legal parameters), sampling, public speaking, giveaways, testimonials, referrals, promotional gifts and sales promotions are just some of the other ways you can market your company.

Traditional advertising is not yet dead, but it is in poor health. It will have to adapt to our new world in order to survive at all. Just as our lives are constantly changing, so must the way we do business. And, the only way a business owner can survive, and even thrive, is to continue to learn and grow, really know and take care of our business and our customers, and always be prepared to adapt in our ever-changing world.


Thinking about starting your own business? Click here to get your copy of: Finding the Perfect Small Business for You. The best business is one you are passionate about. This book helps you find your passion & live your dream.

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Content copyright © 2014 by Deborah Crawford. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Deborah Crawford. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Violette DeSantis for details.

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