Why Television Advertising Can Still Work

I’ve spent a lot of time discussing how the traditional advertising model is broken. But people still spend a lot of money on it, so what’s going on?

Mostly I’ve argued that the broadcast model of advertising is insanely inefficient: Throwing ideas out to a sea of random people in hopes of getting the attention of those who are actually interested in your product or service.

I watched this commercial for job search site that illustrates my point:

Though I’m not in the market for a job and I had no idea what the piece was advertising as it began, it caught my attention enough to watch it and then search for it online. It caught my attention because it’s funny. But because I was multitasking while I watched it, when it was over I knew it was for The Ladders, but I didn’t know what exactly The Ladders was. So I searched for it.

Before Google and online video that worked, I wouldn’tve searched for it. So at least TV advertising has that going for it. Before that, it would’ve taken three or more viewings before the full message would take hold.

The Ladders commercial is a “successful” example of traditional television advertising. It caught and held my attention enough to engage me to search for it online and by doing so ensured that I was familiar enough with the ad that I knew the product: The Ladders, a career site for jobs paying $100k or more. As a branding exercise, it was a successful, if expensive campaign.

I’m not likely to use The Ladders any time soon, as I’m guessing most of the people who watched it on TV won’t as well. But at the same time, the ad no doubt did reach likely current customers and planted the seed with potential future customers.

The only problem, in the online age of authenticity, transparency, and direct marketing, it goes against the culture.

The ad depends upon a deception: Though pleasantly, it nevertheless tricks me into paying attention to a message in which I currently have no interested. And because of that it certainly has none of the efficiency of direct marketing.

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