This is a continuation of yesterday’s post about the SBB Book of the Month, The Fall of Advertising & the Rise of PR. Here are a couple of places where I believe the book falls short.
The Rieses contend that today, PR is more powerful than advertising because advertising lacks credibility. And while it’s absolutely true that people today are skeptical of advertising, it’s due in large part to their skepitism about everything, including the earned media coverage that the Rieses proclaim as a marketing smoking gun. One of their supporting arguments is that advertising people rank just above car salesman when it comes to crediblity. But they failed to look at those same survey respondents' feeling about public relations practicioners and media professionals. I might be wrong, but I’d be willing to bet that neither group would rank much higher than those in advertising—and certainly not as high as the nurses and doctors against whom the Rieses use as a benchmark. Both advertising and PR have a credibility problem, and we need to ask ourselves what if anything we can do about it instead of kidding ourselves that one is better than another.
One thing the book does well is reminding readers that advertising should lead to increased sales instead of just hard-to-quantify “awareness.” They support this argument with several examples of campaigns that had no effect, or a negative effect, on the bottom line. Almost without exception, however, the examples they use feature dinosaur brands that have serious product problems or that have experienced major changes in their competitive environment. Sure, you could make an argument that AT&T’s advertising did nothing to help sell its phone service. But what the dozens of competitors who entered the marketplace leaner and more agile than AT&T? And it’s probably true that Chevrolet’s ads have done little to move cars off dealers' lots. But Toyota runs ads, too, and it seems to be doing pretty well nevertheless.
Perhaps the worst example that they use, however, is one intended to show how a brand can succeed even with ineffective advertising. The brand they chose is Target. Here’s an excerpt:
As with many marketing programs today, there’s a disconnect between the advertising and the consumer perception. Target’s advertising focuses on visual symbolism using the "target" logotype, while the targets of Target’s advertising, its customers, talk about wide aisles, neat displays, and hip merchandise. No one ever says "I go there because they have this neat trademark.”I’m sorry, but this argument is just stupid. Sure, Target's advertising features its logo—but so does nearly everyone in the history of branding and advertising. The message of Target’s ads is that they offer accessible, inexpensive high design, and they are successful because—guess what?—they really do offer accessible, inexpensive high design. Target’s advertising is integral to its success as a brand because it reinforces its differentiated position. You would think Al Ries, one of the men who helped define positioning, would understand that.
Obviously, I have some strong opinions on The Fall of Advertising & the Rise of PR. I’ll post some final thoughts tomorrow, and after you read those I’d encourage you to give your opinion in the comments.