Bring Out Your Dead!


Marketing is dead.

Traditional marketing is dead.

Advertising is dead.

The web is dead.

Market research is dead.

Focus groups are dead.

Surveys are dead.

Print is dead.

Direct mail is dead.

Email is dead.

Those are not my opinions, but rather claims that I see on a regular basis. Copy and paste any one of the above sentences into Google and see how many hits you get. In most cases, it will be in the tens of thousands or more. Some of them will top a million. And you don’t need to limit yourself to my list. Pick any marketing tool or medium you want and do a search on “(fill in the blank) is dead,” and you will come across a flood of articles shoveling dirt on whatever that thing is. Go ahead and try it. I’ll wait here while you do….

Thanks for coming back. And if you took the opportunity to do inappropriate image searches with the Safe Search filter off, shame on you.

Anyway, proclaiming the old thing dead in order to make room for the new thing is a time-honored tradition in marketing. It’s never enough for a new innovation to be promoted as a useful addition to what’s already out there, it has to utterly destroy and render obsolete everything that has come before it. It’s a pretty irresistible message and it is always part of the hype cycle for something new. It is also almost always false.

So long, old friend. You had a nice run.

In truth, almost no marketing technique or advertising medium ever goes away. They may lose prominence or evolve over time, but nothing completely disappears from the marketer’s toolkit. For example, promotional outdoor signage has been around since ancient times. Clearly it must be an archaic medium poised for decline, if not outright extinction, right? Yet according to Kantar Media Intelligence, outdoor advertising spending in the U.S. grew 5% from 2011 to 2012. If outdoor is dead, it’s got an awfully twitchy corpse.

I’m always amused by claims that advertising itself  is dead or dying. These arguments surface all the time, and have for decades. Meanwhile, Google made $50.2 billion in annual revenue last year, and 95% of that was from advertising. No, that is not a typo — 95% of $50.2 billion. Despite that, many people do not even think of Google as an advertising company.  (As Verbal observed in The Usual Suspects, “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was to convince the world he didn’t exist.”) If you confront the “Advertising is Dead” crowd with the Google example, or the fact that Facebook is also primarily an advertising company that has grown tremendously in an allegedly post-advertising world, they will usually backtrack and explain that they are using “advertising” to refer to the traditional Madison Avenue “TV-Industrial Complex” that held sway from the 1950s through the ’90s and has come to be symbolized by Mad Men’s Don Draper. That’s fine as far as it goes, but it’s a bit like arguing that automobiles are dead because nobody drives Packards anymore.

I could go through each one of the statements at the beginning of this post and point out examples of supposedly dead things that are doing quite well, but that would be tedious. I will take the time to point out, though, that contrary to popular belief, Abe Vigoda is alive.

Suffice it to say that proclaiming, “___________ is dead!” is little more than an attention-grabbing copywriting technique; and an increasingly trite and unimaginative one at that. In fact, it may be the second most overused element of marketing-related content one sees online. (The first being stock photography that shows two concepts being represented by intersecting street signs. Jeez Louise, when are people going to retire that visual cliché?!)

The Notorious B.I.G. once warned would-be crack dealers, “Never get high on your own supply.” I’ve long felt that was good advice for marketing professionals as well. Exaggerating the demise of something to help draw attention to your own offering can be a useful and effective tactic. But we should recognize it as a tactic when we see others doing it. We should never allow herd mentality and hype to make us abandon established approaches that still work.

But then again, what do I know? I’m a blogger, and blogs are dead.

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One thought on “Bring Out Your Dead!

  1. That would mean that all of those things are zombies. And we know how much you LOVE zombies.

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