It Pays to Advertise, or Doesn’t It?

I used to attend Earth's biggest mobile phone conference, the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, when it was still called 3GSM and being held in Cannes. Despite this apparent wealth of experience, I remain the one person I know whose only habitual mobile device is a book. I still make telephone calls. When I try to answer my wife's smartphone, I'm not smart enough to hit the right button. Invariably, I cut off the caller and end up saying, “Hello? Hello? Hello! ” into the existential void.

I do watch TV, though. Lately, in New York, I've seen lots of commercial salvos from the latest consumer electronics war. It struck me that Samsung's ironic Galaxy III anti-Apple commercials and Microsoft's Windows 8 effort — especially those ads with the adorable little girl who paints smiles on her touch-screen and pirouettes across the rumpus room — are both beating the socks off Apple's latest iPhone.

This battle is so artistically lopsided that I can't recall seeing any ads for the new iPhone 5. I know they're out there, but they don't register. I wonder how {complink 379|Apple Inc.} can hope to prevail when its ad team has so dismally failed to brainwash me.

Better question: Does it matter?

Regardless of the quality of both commercials and competition, I assume Apple will casually brush aside whatever products its rivals throw up against its every new iGadget. I figure this because Apple's iFranchise has a mystique. It metastasizes invisibly, through word of mouth or crowdsourcing, perhaps just by not washing your hands after going to the bathroom. Even before the news media officially canonized Steve Jobs, Apple didn't have consumers so much as it had believers. Samsung's ads bow to this reality, depicting Apple zealots queued around the block days in advance to buy — sight unseen, with no advance advertising — the latest iThing.

The Apple iPhenomenon contributes to a broad sense that advertising in general has become superfluous. The 2012 election campaign served to reinforce this perception. Republican donors — unleashed by the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision — pumped truckloads of money into TV attack ads in presidential and senatorial races. But they came away virtually winless.

The popular conclusion — that ad bucks don't buy what they used to buy — has devastated media. Print publications are dying while advertisers flee to the Internet, only to discover, after further review, that Internet ads are more ignored than print ads. But nobody wants to go back to print because… well, it's so old school.

Next question: Has the buying public become too sophisticated to be swayed by any form of advertising? Is the art of the ad, after print, the next communication medium to die? And if the future really is commercial-free, how are we going to find out about all the new stuff we just absolutely have to buy? From Facebook? By tweet? From the Ginsu/Vego-matic hustlers on UHF TV at 2:00 a.m.?

Wait. Let's look a little closer.

Part of the “What next?” answer might have emerged — less obviously — from the election. While big spenders on both sides were squandering millions on TV ads, one campaign was testing the impact of microtargeting: spotting voters one by one who might be swayed to favor President Obama and the Democratic ticket.

Once identified as a prospect through a massive computerized data-mining effort, each voter got a little love. The Obama team phoned, emailed, knocked on doors, dropped in, and schmoozed. This produced a more successful get-out-the-vote operation than any expert was able to predict. Technology generated all the sales contacts, but personal contact sealed every deal.

Ironically, this strange reversion to individual attention reminds me of an advertising concept I encountered 40 years ago, when I found myself editing an auto glass industry magazine. Like virtually every reputable trade journal then (and until about 10 years ago), we sent each issue out free, on the condition that each subscriber was “qualified.” To be qualified, subscribers had to fill out a detailed registration proving that they were active in the target industry. Advertisers, of course, loved this approach — called controlled circulation — because it focused their ads on exactly the audience most likely to buy their products.

Controlled circulation was arguably the most effective advertising medium ever devised. Today it's dead — killed by its beneficiaries, who fled to the Web so they could pay for the right to be deleted. Its ghost, I guess, can be discerned in the far costlier, more labor-intensive practice of microtargeting. But it's not quite the same.

What used to be possible on a dream and a shoestring now requires Sheldon Adelson's checkbook and a roomful of supercomputers.

22 comments on “It Pays to Advertise, or Doesn’t It?

  1. Ashu001
    November 23, 2012


    I loved the Samsung Ads in particular.

    Really,really awesome!

    However,they did'nt sway me to buy a New Samsung phone so I get your point.

    But then,what's the solution at hand here?

    How do Companies reach Consumers effectively and efficently now?

    Many Thanks


    November 23, 2012

    One only has to look at movie advertising where the producers can predict with a high degree of certainty what profit they will make by the stars they bag and the advertising budget available.

  3. Cryptoman
    November 23, 2012

    To be honest, İ never take any notice of the advertisements of the manufacturers praising their own products. ahave you ever heard a single manufacturer saying a single negative thing about any of their products? No. Therefore, advertisements are always biased and misleading. İf you really want to know what the product is made of, either try it before you buy it and/or read forums and comments by other buyers. İf you use the internet resources carefully, you will successfully be able to build a clear picture on any product. That is my way of buying items anyways.

  4. _hm
    November 23, 2012

    Advertise in general convey its goal – educating customers and giving them option. One do not need to buy product after watching new product Ad.. But they give them option to evaluate it.


  5. Adeniji Kayode
    November 24, 2012


    The issue of adverts goes beyond making you to buy, it is also to create awareness and to influence your thinking so that when you have to advise a friend to buy an item, the advert you have watched comes to mind. So even if you are not buying, you come to believe in it and recommend it  to somebody else, then the day you decide to buy, it pop up first and most likely you will go for it.

    That is why companies don,t stop advertising even when we do not have time to watch them.

  6. Adeniji Kayode
    November 24, 2012


    you are right, the best way to buy is to search for people that have used the same product before.

    But then, advertisement is not to mislead, its just that nobody will tell you everything about everything.

  7. Adeniji Kayode
    November 24, 2012


    You are right on that, sometimes,adverts also just create awareness in you mind even when you do not need such item.

  8. Cryptoman
    November 24, 2012


    But then, advertisement is not to mislead, its just that nobody will tell you everything about everything.

    You have a very good point there. One automatically tends to think that the manufacturer is supposed to tell the consumer both the good and the bad things about a product but that is not the purpose of advertising after all. I think that is the key distinction between a “sales pitch” and “advertising”. The consumer would expect the sales person to tell all about the product without any reservations to help the customer. I know this never happens but it is what is supposed to happen.


  9. _hm
    November 24, 2012

    @Adeniji: Yes, I do like to watch creative ads time and again and it is very educative to me. It also intergrates different cultures and different field like – art, acting/expression, music, audio/video, history, geography, culture, faith etc. They do are quite fascinating and can be used constructively.


  10. Nemos
    November 25, 2012

    Very interesting approach,

    There is much difference between the type that the advertisers use. For instance, internet advertisements are using a different approach than the paper based, it is more brutal that's why it is more unwanted from the audience. Sometimes the friendly approach brings more customers comparable to any other type. Of course, Apple is using a good strategy (the huge lines outside of the stores waiting for the new product), but I don't know if this is successful in the long-term or what will happen if the competitors start to do the same? 

  11. Himanshugupta
    November 25, 2012

    This word, data mining, attracted my attention the most as i think this is one of the upcoming technology which is going to affect us all in coming years. This is also true that targeted advertisement has more impact than general ones as advertisers can fine tune their approach and engage customers more effectively.

  12. mfbertozzi
    November 25, 2012

    @Himanshugupta: I agree with your approach, even I am not sure tools for datamining are really fair; people say for example Big G uses un-fair analytics or on top of your account, provides ads based on subjects and main topics they have collected within your Inbox. That said, how will we be sure results from an automatical mining session are fair?

    November 25, 2012

    The trick in marketing is to hook a few key individuals that the masses will follow.  Blunderbuss advertising is normally a waste of money I reckon.

  14. Mr. Roques
    November 25, 2012

    Well, back in the days the most information we had about a product before we decided to buy it was from ads… now, in the information era, we have access to much more. From “friends” (actual friends or facebook friends or twitter followers) telling us what they think about it, to youtube reviews, amazon customer reviews, etc.

  15. Ariella
    November 25, 2012

    @Mr Roques, good point. In fact, the expectation of reviews has changed the nature of how products are presented. Almost all online retailers now include reviews of what they offer for sale. The revies also refer to the retailers' level of service, sometimes pointing out that though the item was defective, the store took it back or replaced it without adding to the customer's aggravation. 

  16. prabhakar_deosthali
    November 25, 2012

    In my opinion the AD world has changed quite a lot compared to what it was say 30 years ago.

    New technologies -animation, graphics, high resolution pictures , morphing etc have added to the creativity of those ad geniuses.

    The media – print, TV, radio and internet have made the advertisers to design ads differently for different media to target different segment of consumers.

    That is why the shoestring budgets no more suffice. A few second AD slot on a prime time TV channel costs a millions.


    I think Ads have the essential part of a product . An AD has become as essential as an in-fashion dress.



  17. Adeniji Kayode
    November 26, 2012


    You are right and that is the reason a wise consumer will carry a research about the item he is about to buy because every manufacturer want to portray it product as the best.

  18. Adeniji Kayode
    November 26, 2012

    @ _hm,

    I agree with you on that, that is the reason wisemanufacturesr will do anything to get your attention and create an impression in your heart which will eventually pay-off sooner or later even when you are not conscious of it.

  19. Adeniji Kayode
    November 26, 2012


    well that is a likely possibility, but then that is where innovation comes in. if you are doing well, you will always be copied or immitated but you have to keep moving forward by changing your strategy per time.

  20. Adeniji Kayode
    November 26, 2012

    @Mr.Roques, you are right, reading the reviews written by others is really a good way of knowing so much about an item.A good review will talk about thr pros and cons of such item but I see it as a better way to advertise a product.

  21. Adeniji Kayode
    November 26, 2012


    I think Ads have the essential part of a product .

    I agree with you on that, how will you tell the masses you have a new product if you will not advertise it.

    I think the production coat and advertising cost goes along side with each other

  22. Adeniji Kayode
    November 27, 2012

    @Mr Roques,

    I agree all these reviews are good source of information about an item you are about to buy, my question is that what is the reaction of manufacturers about these reviews especially when they are compared with another product by another manufacturer and such product or item seem to come up second best which is contrary to the advert protrayed by the item manufacturer?

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