Column: Marketing Is Dead

It’s a great blog headline that will get a lot of attention, right? The Harvard Business Review had a blog post titled Marketing Is Dead, written by Bill Lee. Beyond the irony that Lee used a traditional marketing tactic (solid copywriting) to illicit a stream of actions that have made this link incredibly popular (thus […]

It’s a great blog headline that will get a lot of attention, right?

The Harvard Business Review had a blog post titled Marketing Is Dead, written by Bill Lee. Beyond the irony that Lee used a traditional marketing tactic (solid copywriting) to illicit a stream of actions that have made this link incredibly popular (thus debunking his own thesis), once again we’re in a world where definitions and explanations get confused. If I can understand what Lee is saying (and it’s not very clear), it sounds like he is saying that traditional advertising is dead (as we have known it to date). This is what the article says: “Traditional marketing – including advertising, public relations, branding and corporate communications – is dead. Many people in traditional marketing roles and organizations may not realize they’re operating within a dead paradigm. But they are. The evidence is clear.” To add some clarity, marketing isn’t dead – according to Lee – but advertising is dead. For the record, that’s not a semantic error. Marketing (which encompasses everything from product, price, place and promotion) is not only alive and well… it’s core to a business’ success. In short marketing isn’t dead. Marketing is everything.

On death and dying…
It’s less of a red herring and much more of a chicken little to make the claim that marketing is dead. In fact, I would tell Mr. Lee, the Harvard Business Review, and anyone else who asks that advertising (as we have known it to date) is not dying. In fact, it’s not on life-support, it’s not sick, and it probably doesn’t even have the sniffles. Does that mean that social media and digital media has not disrupted the model or added new layers and opportunities? Of course it has. Does it mean that newer components like community management, engaging influencers, building social capital with customers, and engaging with consumers in more collaborative ways (the four core pillars that Lee argues have put the death knell on traditional marketing) hasn’t changed the game? Of course it has.

Not all brands are social. Not all companies need it.
I’m not raging against the machine because I think that traditional advertising offers more opportunity than any of the solutions that Lee prescribes. I am saying that advertising – as a way of informing the masses about a product or service – is not only relevant, it will continue to be an integral component of all strategic marketing campaigns. In short: everything is “with” not “instead of.”

Who cares about breakfast cereal?
You are a consumer packaged goods giant. You sell 48 different kinds of cereal. One of your bran-based cereals is coming out with a new flavor (maybe it has less sugar in it, maybe you’re adding dried blueberries to the mix). How are you going to inform the mass populous about it? Community managers going everywhere and anywhere on Facebook that health nuts hang out? You’re going to get customers super-interested in liking and friending your brand because they spend five bucks a month on a box of cereal? You’re going to engage customers and have them crowdsource the next update to your 300-year-old product?

Who are we kidding?
Does anyone care that much about their breakfast cereal? Advertising is a catalyst to inform. There are other angles (direct response, engagement, brand narrative, etc.), but it still acts as an amazing (and cost-effective) way to tell the masses that you have something new to say. We may not like the ads that the brand puts out there. We may not like the repetition or placement of where some of these messages appear, but don’t kid yourself into thinking that advertising is no longer a powerful way for a brand to buy their way into the zeitgeist.

More choices and a lack of scarcity doesn’t change that.
Beyond the four areas that the Harvard Business Review blog post outlines as the “next generation” of marketing services, we can’t forget that the more media choices we create (and we’ve been creating it by the tonnage) reduces the scarcity (or value) of an ad. That part is, without question, a reality. Advertising was a scarcity model and we live in a world where ads can (and do) go everywhere. That being said, there is still scarcity (there are only so many slots available if you want to buy an ad on the Super Bowl or the homepage of The Huffington Post). Is the value still there? Has the value model changed? Without a doubt. Still, if you want to inform a large audience about your brand, advertising is still very much alive (as is marketing, thank you very much). Saying that marketing is dead is like saying that product development is dead and that branding is dead. It may get a lot of clicks, but there’s no substance or truth behind it.

Do you agree with Bill Lee’s HBR blog article? Post your thoughts in our comment section.

This column originally appeared on the Six Pixels of Separation blog

Mitch Joel is president of Twist Image. His first book, Six Pixels of Separation (published by Grand Central Publishing – Hachette Book Group), named after his successful blog and podcast, is a business and marketing best-seller. His next book, CTRL ALT DEL, will be published in Spring 2013. You can find him here:

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