Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Final thoughts on The Fall of Advertising & the Rise of PR

This is the last of three posts on the SBB Book of the Month, The Fall of Advertising & the Rise of PR (you may want to read post 1 and post 2 if you haven’t already). A few more places where I believe the Rieses get it wrong:

  • The Rieses argue that the prevalence of “alternative” forms of advertising—their examples include blimps, stadium naming rights, and point of purchase displays—demonstrate that advertising is less effective than ever before. The problem here isn’t that this premise is wrong—they’re 100% correct when they say there’s more advertising clutter out there than ever before. But PR has exactly the same problem. That’s why you’re see PR agencies using more promotional stunts—some very effective—to get the audience’s attention, instead of just relying on earned media. We have more stuff competing for our attention these days, and that’s true whether you’re talking about a full-page newspaper ad or the full-page news story running next to it.
  • The most egregious head-to-head comparison the Rieses make is between Coca-Cola and Microsoft. Here’s the crux of the argument: the Coca-Cola brand, launched in 1886, was built on advertising; the Microsoft brand, launched in 1975, was not built on advertising; therefore, advertising must be in decline. Again, I don’t disagree that the rules of the advertising game have changed dramatically, but this example is beyond oversimplified. The reason why Microsoft didn’t need a large advertising budget to build its brand is that they had very little competition. If you had a near monopoly, how much would you spend to advertise your product?
  • In a book full of flaws, the biggest one may be the Rieses use an ad from Long Island’s Adelphi University to demonstrate why advertising doesn’t work. The headline: “Harvard. The Adelphi of Massachusetts.” This ad’s failure has nothing to do with advertising itself and everything to do with a horrible ad concept. If you’re an unknown, you don’t take on the brand leader by claiming you can beat them at their greatest strength (especially when you probably can't beat them at their greatest strength). This goes beyond David vs. Goliath: this is David dropping his slingshot and challenging Goliath to a wrestling match. With one hand tied behind his back. After insulting Goliath’s mother. Sure, bad ads won’t help you build your brand. But bad examples like this don’t help the Rieses build a case for PR's supremacy.
Overall, The Fall of Advertising & the Rise of PR provides some good case studies in PR done well and advertising done poorly. But in focusing only on those extremes, the book ignores the true problem that today’s marketers face: both advertising and PR face serious challenges in today’s cluttered, chaotic communications environment, and marketers need to use every tool available to them. Sometimes that’s PR. Sometimes its advertising. And sometimes its neither. But don’t put away that slingshot just yet.

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