Inside the Mix

Coupled with the right PR approach, ads can inspire consumers to talk, not tune them out

Coupled with the right PR approach, ads can inspire consumers to talk, not tune them out

"Nobody reads advertising. People read what interests them, and, sometimes, it's an ad."

Howard Luck Gossage, one of advertising's greatest philosophers, said this during the '60s, but it came to my mind last week when I saw the study by the Online Publishers Association that claimed that internet users between the ages of 18 and 54 prefer the internet to traditional media, including television. The essence was that if they had to pick just two media, the plurality (45.6%) put the internet first, with just 34.6% putting TV first.

While Gossage's statement pertained to print advertising, its sentiment translates to today's marketing endeavors and is perhaps even more relevant in today's crowded media landscape. Many a study has attempted to quantify the amount of information that comes to consumers every day - it's a lot, and the consumer has greater power than ever to choose to ignore it. With the internet, people are able to tailor their media experience more than with any other media, even if you factor in hundreds of cable channels and the added options that DVRs give TV.

Marketers aren't stupid. Huge numbers have attempted to harness the power of the web as the statistics revealed in the aforementioned study aren't really all that surprising. Further, it follows that smart online PR efforts - whether in mainstream online media, blogs, or a self-contained product PR website - will be successful if they're good enough.

And that's the key. What's forgotten a lot of the time in the debate over the jostling for a consumer's attention is quality. It's not enough to be in the right place at the right time, as it is increasingly harder to tell where and when that sweet spot is. In many cases, your message only achieves its potential when it's amplified by positive word-of-mouth. In other words, it has to be good.

A new factor of quality that advertisers are faced with, beyond the traditional "creative or hard-sell" dilemma, is this: "Is my ad so obviously good that people will hit 'play' on their DVRs when they're fast-forwarding through an ad break or forward a link to it to their friends?"

Technically, for an ad to stand out during a fast-forwarded commercial break, it would need to keep a single, compelling image on the screen for a good five, even 10 seconds - which would just look weird - and spend a third of its budget right away just to target DVR users (although it could be handy if it's them alone it's trying to target).

This is where PR can come in - not your average PR, but the kind of PR that many people joke that ad agencies think is the only kind of PR around: getting people to talk about your ads. Used well, PR might actually be able to encourage people to seek out their ads during a break or maybe not forward through the advertising at all, producing a happy halo effect for other advertisers. And if the ad is not only available on a (good) advertiser website, but also seeded elsewhere on the internet, then you have a way to reach all those people who prefer the internet to TV.

And, back to Gossage's point, if you're browsing the web and you find something that tickles you, you're going to forward it to a friend. Even if it's an ad.

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