Television killed Advertising

Ask any advertising person that you know if they have heard of, or read, The Cluetrain Manifesto and most of them will shake their heads with an emphatic no, which is a shame because within this book lies the clue to their demise.

Whilst the book is written with the Web in mind, most of what it has to say is true of the communication process itself.

So allow us to revisit the Cluetrain Manifesto and apply what they have to say about the world we live in now and the advertising and marketing world as we know it, setting aside the Web for the moment.

In the 20th century, the rise of mass communications media enhanced industry’s ability to address even larger markets with no loss of shoe leather and mass marketing truly came into its own.

With larger markets came higher rewards and these higher rewards had to be protected. More bureaucracy, more hierarchy and more command and control meant the customer who looked you in the eye, was promptly escorted out of the building by security.

The product of mass marketing was the message, delivered in as many forms as there were media and in as many guises as there were marketers to invent them.

Delivered locally, shipped globally, repeated inescapably, the business of marketing devoted itself to delivering the message. Unfortunately, what all these gurus of marketing did not realise and still do not today is that the customer never fully took delivery!

Why, because there is no demand for these advertising messages. Lets face it, consumers don’t want to hear from business.

The message that gets broadcast to you, me and the rest of the population has nothing to do with me in particular. Consequently, it’s worse than noise.

It’s an interruption in my life and like most people, I would rather do without it thank you very much. Just leave me to watch/listen to my program without any facile interruptions.

And that is the awful truth about marketing and advertising. It broadcasts messages to people who simply don’t want to listen or see it.

Every advertisement, press release, publicity stunt and give-away designed by the Marketing Department, or Advertising Agency is coloured by the fact that all their hard work and planning is being presented to a public that doesn’t ask to hear or see it.

Recently the Sunday Times, in the UK, had this to say about advertising: “Things have changed a lot since you used to get 20 million people gathered around television sets to watch Coronation Street and one advertisement could reach them all.

Marketing budgets are being spent differently, and this means less money is being allotted for advertising. A couple of million pounds can buy you a few hours on television but marketers are realising that it can buy an awful lot more if it is spent elsewhere.”

Advertising agencies may be flatfooted in responding to the change, Advertisers cannot find what they need from the big agencies, which tend to be biased towards television advertising.

Small agencies are more flexible and open minded to these changes but the likes of WPP can be a bit slow to respond.

Nestle, once one of the country’s biggest advertisers has slashed the amount it spends on television advertising.

Andrew Harrison, its Marketing Director, says “This is a start of a trend towards more rounded communications. And the big agencies like WPP need to look at offering more than just the traditional services….”

Despite all this rhetoric there is no evidence yet that advertising agencies, or the marketing departments of Clients understand the meaning of the word “communications.”

And herein lies the real problem, the complete lack of understanding of

what the communication process is all about.

Sending a message by itself isn’t sufficient to create an act of communication; there needs to be a response to a message as well. To illustrate this point, think of a radio station broadcasting late at night without a single listener tuned in.

You don’t have to argue about trees falling in an empty forest to agree that no communication has occurred here. In the same way, when you have a speaker talking to one or more people who aren’t listening, there is no communication taking place.

For communication to take place, you must have a message sender and a message receiver and the two sides must talk to each other to understand what the other is thinking/doing.

Advertising occurs when a group becomes too large for all members to contribute. One aspect of advertising is an unequal amount of “speaking”. Advertisers deliver their information to the mass audience, with limited opportunities, if any, for feedback.

The audience, therefore, is unable to talk back in a two-way conversation the way they might in a small group setting and as a result, do not feel involved, do not feel that the message has relevance to them as an individual.

Advertising views communication as something one person “does” to others. In this linear communication model, communication is like giving an injection: a sender encodes ideas and feeling into some sort of message and then injects them by means of a channel (TV, Newspapers, radio, etc).

Despite its simplicity, the linear view of communication isn’t completely accurate. For one thing it makes the questionable assumption that all communication involves encoding.

A more obvious problem of the linear model is its suggestion that communication flows in one direction, from sender to receiver.

However, most types of communication, especially the interpersonal variety, are two-way exchanges. To put it differently, advertising’s linear view ignores the fact that receivers react to messages by sending messages of their own. And if the message sender is not listening in turn…?

Lack of communication competence.

Most advertising agencies and clients lack the skills of communication, advertising messages are more carefully prepared than interpersonal communication and yet “message understandability” tends to be lower.

Advertisements are more carefully prepared because gatekeepers (those who prepare and send out messages) are more cautious about what they say to large audiences than they are to audiences of one or just a few people. They check their facts more carefully and they prepare their syntax and vocabulary more precisely.

And yet, because their audience contributes much less feedback, the source cannot correct any lapse in interest or understanding, so people are more likely to misinterpret what they hear or read over the mass media.

It is important to note, of course, that just because mediated messages are more carefully prepared, they are not necessarily more accurate. Gatekeepers have a way of looking at the world based on personal beliefs or motivations. This “world view” sometimes tends to make media messages inaccurate.

Advertising ignores communications theory.

As the mass media have matured, the behavioural dynamics of perception and interaction, which are not addressed by advertising agencies, have become critical to the re-definition of media and its role in marketing communications. With passive, one way, forms of advertising such as media display or television advertising, there is a certainty of a degree of non-responsiveness.

However, with interactive marketing communication techniques, there is a commitment to participate, which, in turn leads to a set of possibilities, which are significantly different in how they affect the communication process itself.

All advertising is a form of learning, with the advertiser asking potential customers to change their behaviour once they have understood the benefits of the product or service on offer.

The anticipation of response generated through interactive marketing communication, means that the recipients will approach the data with a commitment to read and learn it.

In other words interactive marketing communication turns passive advertising into active advertising and actually alters behaviour during the learning process . It also cuts through the psychological barriers, which prevent an individual from changing brands.

People tend to filter out information they do not want to hear and this alters the effectiveness of advertising in quite a dramatic way. The purchaser’s decision is invariably a compromise and this leads to a certain amount of anxiety.

The worry that perhaps the purchase decision was not the best or right one. In order to minimise this anxiety the purchaser seeks to reinforce their choice and begins to take more notice of their chosen product’s advertising.

And, at the same time, the purchaser deliberately suppresses data, which might challenge their personal decision, by ignoring the advertising of competitive brands.

People are often loyal to a brand simply because they do not want to

readdress a decision that they have already made. The opportunity to screen out such undesired data always exists when media advertisements have to stand on their own and fight for attention.

Despite all this, lets repeat what we suggested at the beginning of this chapter, there is still no evidence yet that advertising agencies, or the marketing departments of Clients really understand the meaning of the word “communications.” They are making progress in some areas but there is clearly a whole lot more to be done.

Paul Ashby pioneered interactive communication to the advertising and marketing communities some twenty-five years ago. The communication issues he addresses have been neglected during the explosive grown of advertising in the 60s, 70s and 80s, these are Cognitive Dissonance, Selective Retention and Selective Exposure.

Would you like to discover the incredible results to be attained by using interactive communication? Well these are revealed for FREE at or contact Paul directly on