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Is Bob Hoffman’s Argument “Full of Crap”?

Tongues are wagging about NAB keynoter and self-styled “ad contrarian” Bob Hoffman’s profanity-laced critique of online advertising.

Wagging for all the wrong reasons.

See, Bob conveniently chose convenient facts and then conveniently wrapped those facts with absurd conclusions.

On Online Advertising

Says Bob: “the advertising industry has become the web’s lapdog – irresponsibly exaggerating the effectiveness of online advertising and social media, ignoring the abominable results of display advertising, glossing over the fraud and corruption, and becoming a de facto sales arm for the online ad industry.”

Display advertising? That would really sting, Bob, if only this were 1999 and I were Geocities.

According to the IAB, “display” advertising comprised only 19% of all digital advertising in 2013 – down from 21% the year before. “Search” was a massive 43%, “mobile” was 17% (and rising fast), “video” was 7% (and rising fast). And this presumably doesn’t include spend on marketing initiatives that were content-based rather than ad-based.

What’s more, Bob’s criticism that people don’t click on banner ads is a relative one. Ask the folks at Pandora and they’ll tell you that click-through rates are well above industry average in no small part due to that magical ingredient called “audio.” By the way, Mr. Broadcaster, how many people clicked on your audio ads?

On Brand Building

Bob went on to challenge the audience to walk through a supermarket and find even one brand that was created through digital advertising rather than traditional big media advertising. Let’s ignore the tricky framing of the question which gives an advantage only to those brands created in the last decade or so.

P&G remains focused on shifting more of its media mix to digital mobile and social media, citing the success of its Always #likeagirl campaign, which it says achieved in excess of 4.4 billion impressions in more than 20 markets. That includes 75 million YouTube views, with [P&G CFO Jon] Moeller claiming this reflects a “high return high-impact marketing execution at a lower cost.”

Perhaps Bob doesn’t visit the Always aisle.

In the U.S. [P&G] has shifted 35 percent of its dollars to digital advertising away from traditional channels like television and printed media. P&G says the [Always] campaign was meant to thrive on social media. [P&G Global Brand Building Officer Marc] Pritchard recently declared “the era of digital marketing is over,” meaning it has become a central part of brand building, not an ancillary effort. “We no longer think of digital as something separate that we tack on at the end of a campaign,” Pritchard said. “It’s just brand building.” Pritchard said ads like “Like a Girl” might be more subtle than a 30-second TV spot, but digital and social marketing has enormous benefits. “This mindset has led to a tremendous shift in our company, freeing our minds to focus on building creative ideas that come to life in the mediums consumers engage with every day – search, social, mobile, video, PR and even TV,” Pritchard said at an industry conference.

So for P&G there is no distinction between “digital marketing” and any other marketing, but Mr. Hoffman still sees radio in one silo and banner ads in another with nothing between or beyond.

This is worse than simplistic, it is naive.

Oh by the way, venture down the Kraft aisle, too, Bob:

Kraft gets four times better ROI from [online] content than from ads, says Julie Fleischer, Kraft’s director of data, content and media.

Kraft now generates the equivalent of 1.1 billion ad impressions a year and a four-times-better return on investment through [online] content-marketing than through even targeted advertising, she said.

On Social Media

Hoffman criticized marketers and advertisers for having the hubris to imagine that consumers would want to talk about brands via social media. Folks want to connect with each other, not with your brand, Bob argued.

In large part this is true, but the goal of any brand effectively engaging in social media is not to simply interject their brand into the stream of conversation between friends. That would be an interruption – or what advertisers call an “ad.”

Rather, the goal should be to facilitate conversation around something that matters to consumers in the presence of the brand, exactly as P&G did with #likeagirl.

But no, Bob thinks advertisers want me to tweet “#coke adds #life”.

On Advertisers as Idiots

Media buyers are “bobbleheads” says Bob, highlighting the difference between someone who makes a living selling spots and someone who make a living delivering PG-13 keynotes.

Meanwhile, the entire advertising industry must have a screw loose, because how else to explain pictures like this:


With advertising growth being driven by mobile, social, and desktop video (not display, I might add), it’s enough to make any contrarian contrary, right Bob?

I don’t know, who’s right? The entire world of advertising, marketing, and brands?

Or Bob Hoffman?

Even radio’s growth – such as it is – is very likely to come via digital and non-traditional dollars. That has been well discussed in the industry. Somebody, please tell Bob.

So do we have to “tell our story better”? Do we have to call out the “idiots” from P&G and Kraft? Do we have to tell our sellers to get off their butts and sell because Bob Hoffman says so? Or do we have to see the world as it is rather than as we wish it was?

On 50+

Bob goes on to showcase the largest opportunity available to broadcasters, in his opinion: The vast riches of the over-50 audience which controls a disproportionate amount of spending power but lives largely outside the spotlight of advertisers and marketers.

Well, Bob’s got a point there, but it’s one that folks have been making – largely without success – for more than a generation. If we haven’t been able to convince advertisers of this by now, we never will.

So Who’s Right?

Well, P&G is right and Bob Hoffman is wrong: Digital advertising/marketing “is not a separate something” – it’s a part of an integrated plan of marketing for any brand which wants to be where its consumers are – a plan which includes both traditional and digital media without any artificial dividing lines between them.

The sooner broadcasters recognize that they, too, are in the digital marketing business, the better. Because radio is stronger with digital and digital is stronger with radio.

Imagining anything else is a fantasy where unicorns and rainbows and console radios are ubiquitous, where we gather ’round the radio to listen to President Roosevelt’s fireside chats, and where troublesome kids stay off of irascible Bob’s lawn.

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