One of the tenets of advertising used to be aligning your brand with content, borrowing on the equity of a TV show, a magazine, a radio personality, etc. to appeal to their audience. When I ran the Victoria’s Secret media buying account (1999 – 2003), we conducted some research on attitudes/motivations and self-concepts of their most loyal customers. What we uncovered was that she defined herself as bold, romantic, adventurous, sexy, and confident, but with a self-deprecating sense of humor. Their favorite TV show, at the time, was Ally McBeal—the epitome of that self-concept. We placed an ad in every episode of that show. We wanted to borrow on her equity. You know what happened? The sales associates in the stores called HQ to thank them for raising the ad budget. They were seeing the ads so much more. But we didn’t raise the budget, we just spent it smarter.
We did this because, despite what we marketers think, consumers don’t really align with our brands. For perspective on this, read Bob Hoffman’s brilliant Ad Contrarian column on this here.
Borrowing on content equity is no longer the case. According to a news report published by The Wall Street Journal, the majority of ad dollars in 2020 were spent among “the triopoly”, Google, Facebook and Amazon. Three companies that produce no content are now the biggest beneficiaries of ad spending.
We’ve let technology win. We’ve trained consumers to not tolerate interruptions and they’re comfortable paying to avoid being marketed to. They are spending more time with ad-free media than ad-supported media, even in long-form video. They hate advertising. Mostly because there are no great digital ads. We’ve lost sight of the importance of associating brands with content people like to consume.
All is not lost. With the impending demise of third-party cookies, aligning with content in context will become more important than it has been for the past few years as the pendulum swings back to center from the “adtech gone wild years”.
There are still publishers you can associate with and Influencer Marketing, which borrows on personality equity rather than content equity, can still be used. The challenge is in building scale that brands need to be the next Coca-Cola or Tide detergent.