Advertising is broken


I was taken aback this week by an article I read in the NZ Herald entitled “FCB: Too many ads based on fashion, not fact”, by FCB analyst Peter Field.

Mr. Field takes the position that in a quest to reduce wastage in marketing, we have gone too far. That our push to personalize advertising and target core customers was an erroneous theory and companies should do more broadcast advertising. He cites a paper that declares “mass media are still crucial for effectiveness” and another that “waste (from mass media) contributes to advertising effectiveness by increasing its credibility.”

This, I simply do not believe.


Advertising is broken


As a very simple example we can all relate to –

I took the advertising circulars (aka ‘junk mail’) from my physical mailbox on Thursday 1st December. I was surprised by the volume and thickness of the junk mail. There were 18 individual pieces of advertising with offers from retail companies.

Instead of putting it straight in the recycling bin before I get to the house, which is what I normally do, I decided to do something different to show just how broken this form of advertising is. My hypothesis was that there is an incredible amount of wastage in these advertising circulars and they are irrelevant – but I wanted to show how much.

I decided to add up the price of every single product, of every single page of each one of those 18 individual circulars.


Advertising is broken

Total value of the offers in front of me on that one day, the 1st of December?


$1,564,597 . Think on that – over one and a half million dollars of offers in my mailbox in one single day.

My Christmas budget is perhaps 0.001 times that or less, which means 99.9% of that advertising content is wasted for me.

  • It is no wonder that as a society are never satisfied with what we have
  • It is no wonder we think we need to earn more to buy more to be happier
  • It is no wonder we feel overloaded with marketing messages and that there are ‘too many ads’

Do I feel that these offers were relevant?  Absolutely not – in adding up all those prices, from all those products from all those catalogues, not one product / price stood out to me.

Do I feel that that the credibility of these companies have been raised by all this wastage? Absolutely not. In fact, this has reinforced a negative picture of how broken advertising is, and how companies need to use data to be smarter in their marketing.

….And I got it all again from most of those companies this week and many others on other days of the week.

Surely more personalized, more relevant messaging from companies isn’t too much to ask

  • If companies have data to show that I purchased a TV 6 months ago – why try and sell me 10 different types of TVs for Christmas
  • If I rarely buy jewellery, chances are I’m not going to buy a $6000 ring.
  • If I enjoy reading non-fiction about entrepreneurs, why not show me books relevant to that rather than top fiction books
  • I’m not sure why I need a selection of 8 different watches – why not show me one or two that people with similar lifestyle and preferences have recommended?
  • I don’t need multiple laptops, and…
  • I am not interested all sorts of low end mobile phones – I already have the latest iPhone.

While these examples are with my offline circulars, it also applies to my online experience.

  • In an online shoe shop, why not understand my foot size, and only display me shoes that will fit my foot size, not all your stock available.
  • In an online gaming store – why not only show me games that are relevant to the console I currently have and are collecting games for?
  • In an furniture store – why not only show me dining suites and lounge suites that are going to fit my family of 2 adults and 4 kids?
  • But also – why not take my past behaviour into account? What I have purchased in the past, what quality I typically go for, what my hobbies are.

I am an individual, treat me like one.

No, $1,500,000+ of offers in a mailbox in one day is not a good experience for me. We don’t need more ‘mass media’, we want more personalised value. We don’t want more wastage, we want more relevancy. We don’t want more clutter in our lives, rather we want to simplify. We don’t want to spend more time with advertising messages, we want the time to enjoy the experiences with family and friends.

At least I know that is what I want…