Escaping the tyranny of 'advertising'



The trouble with the word ‘advertising’ is that it comes embedded with so much silent, inescapable, ill-founded and downright unhelpful baggage.

After all, in many minds, ‘advertising’ is synonymous with...



Strong effects


Bought media

The problem with these assumptions is that...

Most of the time it doesn’t work through implanting ‘messages’ in the minds of its audience.

If judged by its ability to differentiate brands most of it is a failure.

Advertising is not a strong force but a weak one, one that nudges consumers to introduce into or to keep a brand in their repertoire, rather than creating devoted converts.

It need not ‘persuade’ consumers of anything, since in most categories they are not in need of being persuaded of anything. Merely reminded that your brand is available.

 (I’ve written about the above at length here, herehere and here)

More than all this though, thinking in terms of ‘advertising’...

Constrains us to think in terms of media inventory that can be bought, or at least rented.

It encourages us to place the range of activities we have at our disposal into unhelpful silos.

Worse, it encourages a wearisome partisanship that insists the options available to us must live in some kind of zero-sum opposition, rather than simply exist as choices.

It ignores all the other ways in which we can distribute, announce, and make available our idea or product.

And in doing so, it ignores all the other ways in which we can leverage the networks within networks of our connected world.

Perhaps then it is time for all of us to reclaim what the Spanish-speaking world calls ‘publicidad’ and Italians ‘pubblicità’.

For if we wish to escape the tyranny of only ever seeing ad-shaped problems, then perhaps “How do we publicize?" is a liberating question to ask.  It excludes and mandates no means. In contrast to "How do we advertise?" which, given the baggage it comes with, will always risk funneling us down old and not necessarily helpful paths.

Then again, perhaps we should go further and recall the essence of marketing. As Moran defined it and Sharp has more recently built upon, it is as its simplest about creating physical and mental availability. That is, making products and services easy to buy, and easy to think of in buying and consumption occasions. Surely a more helpful and commercially-minded perspective than the edifice of psycho-babble, metaphor-overloaded chatter that now surrounds so much of the art and science of building and sustaining brands.

So perhaps all we should be asking  - if we wish to seize opportunity, and to cast silos, fiefdoms, prejudices, constraints, and assumptions aside - “What can we do to make this brand easy to think of, and easy to buy?”

While the answer(s) might not be simple, could the question really be that simple?


Helen Bloom, Rachel Kennedy, Andrew Ehrenberg and Neil Barnard, ‘Brand Advertising as Creative Publicity’, Journal of Advertising Research, Vol. 42, No. 4, July/August 2002

William T. Moran, ‘Brand Presence and the Perceptual Frame’, Journal of Advertising Research, October/November 1990

Byron Sharp, How Brands Grow: What Marketers Don’t Know