It is something that has been discussed for several years now. Does our message get through the noise? Does the consumer even care anymore? Was our multi-million dollar investment an epic fail? And did our Facebook profile generate better results than our last Superbowl spot? Is traditional advertising and its 300 year American history dead?
In the wake of the mild 2001 recession, industry experts announced the end was near for advertising and that public relations would rise from its rarely acknowledged corner of the office to promote and defend the brand. Well, I think the latter did occur as a little thing called social media began amplifying the communications taking place from PR departments. Advertising on the other hand has continued to grow and prosper with overall revenue actually increasing in the past decade. The Wall Street Journal reported that Internet advertising dollars ($24.2 billion) were set to surpass those spent on newspapers ($24.8 billion) probably within the next year. Television continues to remain dominant due to its greater rate of household usage and audience diversity.
For hundreds of years advertising has supported the free press and enabled larger numbers of people to consume print media. Society benefited from a more educated and informed public as well as private sector economic growth. Today, newspaper publishers are closing their doors, unable to lure people away from online content. Digital content is produced in astounding quantities and for the most part it is currently free. What changes are in store for this industry? How will we know what new product suits our ever evolving needs?
For the professionals today who ask if traditional advertising will fall over the next ten years, the answer is both yes and no. Television will stick around for much longer than that. Even as video content moves online and DVRs allow you to skip traditional spots, the advertising moves into the show. Product placement stays in television and film. Television series become sponsored by telecom companies hoping you will engage with your mobile phone. Is this advertising traditional, alternative, or just new? Brands will still get recognized and messages will still be decoded by audiences. They are just pickier audiences who understand they hold power over companies with their dollars and social accounts.
For print media, it is survival of the fittest, which usually means survival of the biggest. Despite industry drops in total newspaper circulation, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and The New York Times certainly will not be folding anytime soon. WSJ only offers a sample of digital content to non-subscribers, and the other prominent news sources will soon follow suit if they start struggling with advertising revenue. While $600-$800 for an annual subscription may be high, consumers seem to like a tiered set of rates that make them feel in control. Give them print on weekends and digital on weekdays. Offer digital every day, or a pre-paid account that lets you read any 20 articles for a few dollars. I see market-oriented pricing strategy emerging as the most powerful tool for these publications to maintain revenue streams without losing existing customers.
Lastly, I cannot wrap up this post without at least touching on the third media outlet known as radio. Of course this traditional advertising medium has become threatened over the past decade, but from what I can tell, it remains strong. As we entered the new millennium, the world was introduced to satellite radio, in which SIRIUS and XM are the major players. At the same time Apple gave us a nifty device called an iPod, the success of which launched demand for compatible speakers, accessories, and integration with home and car audio systems. You might suspect people quickly plugged in their iPod or subscribed to “commercial-free” radio, but they didn’t. In fact, I only know of a couple people who selected those options and they still listen to regular FM radio on occasion. In nine years the (now merged) SIRIUS | XM brand has attracted an estimated 20 million subscribers, yet this just shifts advertising budgets toward growing Internet radio stations.
In summary, traditional advertising cannot die entirely. We rely on it too heavily to listen to radio for free in our cars, and to watch television. Until these mediums become so outdated we no longer think of them as traditional, advertising will continue to support them in one way or another.