Tuesday, January 22, 2008

More on The Fall of Advertising & the Rise of PR

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.


Beth said...

I think Target's advertising is brilliant and an excellent example of successful brand-building.

My first job was at Target. They had just entered our market as the Dayton-Hudson discount department store -- the equivalent of L.S. Ayres' Ayr-Way. They were no different than any other big box store. Had they continued on in that manner, they probably wouldn't still be around. But, they changed their inventory, their advertising and eventually how they were perceived in the market place. Their alliance with Michael Graves and other hip designers helped them gain status. They are competitively priced, perhaps a little higher than Wal-Mart and Meijer, but Target shoppers don't seem to mind. Their use of cool imagery and songs (Think the Beatles "Hello Goodbye") in their advertising help to make an association between hipness and shopping -- no matter what the product. A TV spot might feature stacks of laundry detergent in an ad, but it's done in an inventive way. Local blogger Kody Tinnel referred to Target as "the Yuppie Wal-Mart," and he's not too far off the mark. That's the perception they set out to create and through their branding, that's what they've accomplished.

The only misstep that they've taken was the advent of "Super Target." Their food prices are not competitive, and their inventory is limited. A Super Target (and I guess that the new Target on 14 will be one) might be successful in Fort Wayne because of the Kroger/Scott's situation.

Anthony Juliano said...

Hi, Beth--thanks for the comment. You make some great points about Target. Here's the difference I see between Wal-Mart and Target: Wal-Mart equals "low price"; Target equals "low price PLUS great design." That means you go to Wal-Mart for the $9.95 plastic white trash can that you hide in the corner of your bathroom, BUT you're willing to pay $11 for the Michael Graves-designed trash can that you don't have to hide in the corner. The former is a commodity item; the latter is targeted (pun intended) at a very specific type of consumer. Target has done a great job of positioning itself as a destination for the shopper who is willing to pay a little more for something they perceive to be of higher quality.