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The Thing is Never the Thing

media thing

We believe the message makes the media work; the media does not make the message work.”

Roy H. Williams

The message makes the media work.  The media does not make the message work.  In other words…the thing, is never the thing.

There are lots of “things” out there.

  • Alphabet
  • Meta
  • Over the top
  • Out of home
  • Radio
  • Direct mail
  • TikTok
  • Broadcast television
  • Podcasts
  • Blimps
  • Graffiti
  • Door hangers
  • Bus stop shelters
  • Sandwich boards
  • Handbills
  • Product placement
  • Telemarketing
  • Cinema
  • Word of mouth

That’s a lot of things.  I don’t think it’s even all the things.

I’ve seen every one of those things work.

I’ve also seen every one of those things end in a smoldering crater of failure.

The thing is never the thing.  It’s the thing in the thing that makes the difference.

It’s the message and the strategy behind it that make the thing work.

When somebody tells you “I used Facebook and it worked like gangbusters,” your next question needs to be: “What, exactly, did you say on Facebook?”

The last decade has been overrun by “templates” for DIY ads you can plug and play.  And Programmatic ad buying has automated the process of getting those ads in front of customers.

In one way, it has democratized advertising because you get to bypass the finger-gun-hair-gel-puka shell-neckless-salesguy.  You get to fly the plane all by yourself, without the pesky air traffic control slowing you down.

The question isn’t whether you know how to fly a plane.  The question is:  Where are you going?  What kind of fuel are you using?

The thing is never the thing.  The thing in the thing…is the thing.

ad builder

iHeart Radio now lets you buy radio ads as easily as you can self-checkout at Walmart.

Just fill out a quick form, pay some money, and blammo!  You’re on the air.

Brilliant money grab for iHeart.  Horrible idea for advertisers.

I would never criticize something I have no experience with…so I went ahead and bought an automated iHeart radio ad to advertise this article.  I paid them $400 to write a commercial and run it.

For one day.

In Provo, Utah.

Why Provo?  No reason.  I just picked it. Nobody told me I couldn’t.

What do I want to have happen?  Nobody asked.

What do I want people to remember?  I have a website and you should go there.

Where will my ads run? iHeart tells me it will run sometime between 1am and 7am 97.1 ZHT and ROCK 106.7sometime between 7am and 11 am on Talk Radio 105.9 KNRSsometime in the afternoon on Rock 106.7 and again on Talk Radio 105.9 KNRS sometime between 5 and 8 pm.

Why?  Cuz that’s what the robot picked.

The non-sentient machine tells me I’ll get between 17,800 and 24,000 impressions (“impressions” being one listener hearing my ad once).

Whether I succeed or fail is none of their business.  Or concern.  I was stupid enough to buy the ads.  They were smart enough to cash the check.

Data shows that over the past decade, dumb business owners like me have been buying these short-term “things” in growing numbers.  Data also shows that over that same period, advertising has been working less and less well.

short-termism

declining effectiveness

My experiment will likely fail because no thought was put into what I’m saying in the ad.

Nobody at iHeart thought to ask me what kind of customer I’m hoping to get or what it takes to be my customer.  Hell, they never even asked why an ad writer sitting in Springfield, Illinois wants a commercial running in Provo, Utah.

The “thing” you’re advertising on is never the thing.  The thing in the thing…is always the thing.

It’s easy to buy advertising.  Frankly, it’s easy to make advertising…there’s a template out there for that.  But…

  • Does your ad tell your unique story?
  • Does it reflect the fire you had in your belly when you went into business?
  • Is it furthering what your brand stands for…or just randomly grabbing buyers with money in their hands?
  • Does it line up with your goals?
  • Do you have a goal?

But enough from me.  You need to go think about what you’re going to put in your ad…and then make something great.  Because as Amy Poehler said, “…the talking about the thing isn’t the thing. Doing the thing is the thing.”