The most recent thing I bought myself that was not a replacement item or clothing was Bose's new headphones - the style that goes in your ear, not the large, airline-pilot variety.
What prompted the purchase was an ad I saw. Many, many ads, actually - on the subway, in magazines, on the Web. It took roughly two weeks from awareness to "type in your card's expiration date."
Yikes, what's that? An advertisement persuaded me to do something? Well, yes. I'm sorry, but it's true. It is one of the more irritating functions of this job that you can no longer impassively let marketing wash over you, but rather you must analyze its impact and the drivers to purchase. Frankly, I was surprised at the power that this pretty basic ad campaign had on me, particularly when it is passé to admit that ads sway you at all. And no, I read no blogs about it, downloaded no podcasts, and sought no YouTube video take on them prior to purchase.
This led me to something that has been percolating. Is it possible that we all engage in overkill in promoting the impact and influence of user-generated media at the expense of other marketing platforms? At the risk of not having this link picked up by our beloved PR blogger audience, I think we might be.
Far too much of the buzz relates to the opportunities of consumer content in isolation, rather than part of a complex and multifaceted program. This is both oversimplifying the "new media" strategy, and disproportionately diminishing others. It is also increasingly at odds with those that are integrating elements across the marketing mix, rather than simply throwing their efforts into one new-media idea.
The denigration of one form of marketing does not elevate another. The reason why we are out of balance now is simple: it took many of us too long to catch on. I think another reason is that communicators are particularly worried about letting this opportunity slip away. But focusing too minutely on one aspect of the marketing picture will ultimately doom PR if it becomes one more communications silo that keeps it from being part of the whole brand strategy.
We get it now, so it is time to take the air and heat out of the discussion and get down to seeing the marketing campaign holistically. What drove me to Bose's online ordering page wasn't the ad alone. It was the brand's power, as understood through multiple channels over time, including product placement, ads, word of mouth, and media mentions. It was the brand listening to consumers who clearly didn't want to look like football coaches calling plays on the sidelines, but craved a better headphone. The prompt in my case was the ad, but no one really knows these days what will be the trigger for every consumer, every time.
Don't be afraid to admit that ads sometimes work and blogs sometimes don't. In order to secure their future, PR pros need to be the bravest people in the room and tell it like it really is.