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Guest

The New Advertising

By: Guest | March 17, 2011 | 
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Jim MitchemJim Mitchem is an award winning copywriter and founder of one of the first virtual ad agencies on the planet in smash communications.

A few years back, Home Depot ran a television commercial showing one of their fully decked out 18-wheelers driving along a beautiful country road. A voice over talked about Home Depot’s commitment to communities they serve. As the camera panned out, we saw a crossroad ahead for the semi. It comes to a stop and then its right blinker goes on. As the camera continues to pan out, we see the entire horizon. To the right are clear skies, but to the left – armageddon. The sky is black and crackling with lighting. The clouds are swirling. The truck’s blinker then changes from right to left. The big rig turns and the logo fades up.

Let’s get something straight – television commercials are expensive. Especially ones so well-produced as this. So what’s the point? The point of this ad is to position brand in your mind as a benevolent corporate citizen and its goal is to get you to choose Home Depot over Lowe’s the next time you need lumber or lightbulbs. After all, Home Depot helps communities across America that have been devastated by natural disasters. Right? Do they really go out of their way to donate supplies to people who have been struck with bad weather? Probably. I have no idea. But the fact that you think they do is the most important thing.

Everything is advertising. It’s as simple as that. So whether we like it or not, every time a brand outwardly communicates that they’ve done something good for the community, it crosses over from public relations into advertising.

And it’s ok.

For example, the fact that McDonald’s mascot Ronald McDonald is the icon for the Ronald McDonald House is advertising. Before you claim that I’ve lost my ethical marbles, hear me out. Yes, we all know about the great things that the Ronald McDonald House does for kids and their families – but, if McDonald’s didn’t care whether they got credit, they’d run these facilities anonymously. Wouldn’t they?

With the advent of social media, it seems that corporate benevolence is more prominent than ever. From Pepsi Refresh to Kohl’s Cares‘, brands everywhere are trying to do well by doing good in this wonderful new age of real time community interaction. Look, I have no doubt that there are people who work at Kohl’s and Pepsi that are incredibly passionate about their respective charitable programs. And I’m sure they’re all really good programs. But in the end, it’s all advertising. Sure, brands care about the causes they support. Of course they do. But the fact that they use commercial mediums to advance these programs makes it advertising. If brands didn’t care about getting credit, they’d do what they do anonymously.

Everything’s advertising. And it’s ok. Let’s just call it what it is.

Jim Mitchem is an award winning copywriter and founder of one of the first virtual ad agencies on the planet in smash communications. He and his wife of 14 years moved to Charlotte in 2000, have two young daughters and a pack of animals. He’s a regular blogger for Advertising Age, the FearLess Cottage and The Good Men Project and is currently helping build Boxman Studios into a nationally recognized leader in mobile hospitality via green innovation. You can find him all the time at ObsessedwithConformity.com.

19 comments
cgroenerku
cgroenerku

Yes this cross over from public relations to advertising is an important part of the marketing process and is a part of implementing integrated marketing communications. I see it as a good thing when the various aspects of marketing can work together.

mcleveland
mcleveland

Great article - it got me thinking about my own perceptions of advertising vs. PR. I have worked in both fields for many years and the lines have really blurred since many ads take the warm and fuzzy soft-sell approach much like PR. The Home Depot commercial is a good example of this. My favorite is the Dawn commercial which shows how its product is used to remove sludge from a cute baby duck affected by an oil spill! It gets me every time.

Though PR is usually thought of as the soft sell approach, many ads do the same. The difference, obviously, is the frequency of exposure since ads are repeated, and the cost of advertising. Also, PR does at least attempt to appear objective though we know that isn't the case. Despite this - I do believe PR will always be PR, and advertising will always be advertising despite the two having the exact same goal - to increase the bottom line.

wabbitoid
wabbitoid

I didn't want to say too much on this topic, partly because I'm not a pro in this field. But ... well, I *do* have opinions ... :-)

In an age of social media and two-way media generally, "image making" is not dead. But, like everything else, it's partly up to the people who are consumers who rely on your product. It's a community thang. That makes it both stronger and harder to control.

You just can't fake it like you used to be able to - you have to be at least somewhat authentic. That's what Ronald McDonald House is all about. The Home Despot ad is a really good example that does not relying on the new-fangled authenticity, but it has to be backed up at some point (which Home Despot does when it supports Habitat for Humanity, among other things) to send it home.

Do any of us know just where it was going? I'll guess not. I'll go as far as to guess that novices like me, with a bit of healthy distance, are sometimes better judges of what works & what doesn't in a changing world. But I think we can all accept that this is very real - and a lot like playing with dynamite at times.

Keena Lykins
Keena Lykins

Hi, Jim. Great piece. I agree with you, except I would say everything is PR. Of course, that was the route I took into marketing communications. Others would call it branding. You call it advertising. The fact is, whatever you call it, every time you communicate to the outside world, whether its through the receptionist who answers the phones or a million-dollar Super Bowl ad, you say something about your company. Each time you label something by discipline and silo it off, you lose opportunities to reinforce the public image of your company.

Gini, I've commented twice this week. That cold breeze off the bay must be from hell freezing over.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

Jim, what a beautifully written piece. Your decision to focus on your writing was the right one - it suits you.

JGoldsborough
JGoldsborough

I get your point, Jim. But the definition of advertising is very different than PR or any term you use to describe earned, two-way conversation. Advertising is one-way and people don't trust it, according to a 2008 Nielsen survey that says 14% of people trust ads while 78% trust "someone like me."

If you try to engage today's customers with an advertising-only mentality, you will get smoked. TV ads like the one you referenced do serve an important role -- they create exposure. But with the access customers have to information these days, exposure alone rarely makes a sale or forms a relationship with a customer.

PatrickStrother
PatrickStrother

Young and Rubicam did an interesting study many years ago that is relevant to your point that everything is advertising. They showed people coupons, editorials, direct marketing material, catalogs, signage, print ads and dozens of other communications examples. 97% were categorized as advertising. We like to silo things, especially in the academic world, but to the casual consumer 'everything is advertising' will suffice. Great post.

alanbr82
alanbr82

It's a double edge sword when brands give anonymously or use it as PR/advertising. I have two clients that have been called out for not giving. However they give all the time, but nobody knows since the believe getting the credit is not important, the cause is. So one has had to layout what they do to avoid the bad PR.

If it helps people, encourages others like McDonald's then should we really care? In the grand scheme, credit, PR and advertising is not really the issue helping others is.

Lori
Lori

"Sure, brands care about the causes they support. .... If brands didn’t care about getting credit, they’d do what they do anonymously"

Jim, you call a spade a spade. I like that. Well said!

Lori

SethOrNone
SethOrNone

Great post, Jim. The expectation of consumers today is that the companies and brands that get our business will also be giving part of that back to our community. But does the sheer act of communicating those acts of generosity make it advertising? Nope. It's still PR. PR is a discipline of outwardly communicating messages as much as the next marketing tool. Public relations serves to build brands, sell products and strengthen reputations. And even if that reputation-strengthening tactic is a TV spot, it's still PR. Everything's PR.

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

Jim Great post! We just discussed this on @Danny Brown 's blog. Kind of like Green. Most companies are not green but they want you you to think they are green. I tell everyone I meet now don't believe anything any company tells you as 100% truthful. It's all half truths. 'We support the humane society' but maybe they dump poison chemicals in the river?

But aren't we all this way? Do we really know anyone besides our closest friends and family and even then maybe we get surprised? It's all advertising!

Lori
Lori

@ginidietrich ISN'T he a great writer Gini! I'm so glad you featured him - I followed him to his site and became completely enamored with his Meanderings post! I love it when I writer of your calibre @jmitchem !

jmitchem
jmitchem

@JGoldsborough I think you're taking the word 'advertising' too literally. Step back an put down all your preconceptions and think about how communications affects or influences decision making. let's give the outward communications by a brand to an audience with an intention to influence them a word. I call it advertising. And yes, PR is a form of it. I'm not endorsing one-way print ads circa 1999. Every outward communication in the public realm is a form of advertising. Or rather, it's an ad that shows the rest of the world how much a brand cares about its customers. Customer service in social spaces is one of the greatest forms of advertising available to brands today. It just is. We agree to disagree. Thanks for your comment.

JGoldsborough
JGoldsborough

@jmitchem But customer service is not advertising at all. It's PR. I hate semantics arguments, but this is one I am passionate about. You can't say advertising and mean PR. They aren't the same. Not even close. There is no such thing as 2-way advertising. Does. Not. Exist.

And ads that "show the rest of the world how much a brand cares" fail because the conversation ends with the ads. Just ask BP.

JGoldsborough
JGoldsborough

@jmitchem I think we agree. Just using different terms to make our points. To me advertising means "I can make you buy into something buy pushing my message." That's Mad Men and there's a reason it takes place in the 1960s. WOM, offline and online, is the best form of recommendation there is. I agree. But I wouldn't call it advertising because of what that term denotes to me.

But overall, I am with you.

jmitchem
jmitchem

@JGoldsborough We disagree again. I think modern customer service (in public spaces) is absolutely advertising. It's like this, the discourse is in the public realm, right? If a customer of a brand receives a quality experience, they might promote that brand in their streams. it's not unlike saying, "I love my new iPad" in a stream, only "I love Apple Care." Either way, it's word-of-mouth endorsement from someone who has influence over someone (followers) and so the next time a follower has a choice between involving the brand someone promoted here, that person is more likely to choose on a positive message by a consumer/peer/friend. Word-of-mouth is the best advertising - they teach us that in marketing 101. only, as marketers, we think everyone only wants to be talked to in advertising for it to be advertising. People don't want advertising. Ever. Ok, maybe the super bowl, but otherwise, never. So while some brands continue to pump their media buys with one-way dialogue in archaic mediums (print ads for example) they're missing out on a chance to push the *idea* of advertising into these new mediums. Thus, making PR and customer service valid means of advertising. It's different - and hard to grasp. You've got to be willing to consider what the core idea of advertising is - to attract prospective customers. I wrote this recently: http://jimmitchem.posterous.com/service-with-a-smile-in-your-tweet

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