Mass advertising made sense in the heyday of mass media; in the internet age, it no longer does.
Imagine you’re a marketing executive back in the 1960s. Your company has a product, but your sales team has a problem: not enough sales! So how do you solve it?
If you took the traditional approach to marketing, it would boil down to two words: buy ads – preferably lots of ads, and get them seen by as many people as possible.
Call it the “Coca-Cola method.” As the world-famous soft drink company has done year after year, you would flood the airwaves and magazine pages with advertisements.
Your objective? In a word, mass. You use the mass media to achieve mass saturation of the mass market with a mass message aimed at – you guessed it – the masses.
And what’s the message? Mass again. It’s about persuading your mass audience that your product is a part of the mass culture. For Coca-Cola, that meant convincing people that everyone’s drinking Coke – and enjoying it!
Back in the 1960s, when the United States had three main television channels, and nearly everyone was watching the same shows, that was a viable strategy. If you ran an ad on The Beverly Hillbillies, your message would reach millions of people – a large percentage of the television-viewing public.
But those days are long gone. Now the public’s attention is split between thousands of television channels and shows, and many people are watching YouTube and Netflix instead.
The internet is a game changer. On one level, it’s the most massive mass medium ever created, connecting billions of people. But on another level, it’s also the least massive medium. That’s because everyone can curate their own private version of it, with personalized Facebook timelines and Twitter feeds, and tailored YouTube video suggestions and Spotify playlists.
Just as mass media has splintered into numerous smaller media, the mass culture that used to be centered around it has fractured as well. The television show Mad Men, which ran between 2007 and 2015, chronicled this shift, and the show itself provides an example of the change that’s taken place. The show received a great deal of praise, yet on average, only about 1 percent of the US population watched it.
The mass-advertising approach to marketing no longer makes sense. Clearly, a new approach is needed.