2011 marketing predictions: The death of mass marketing has been greatly exaggerated

No doubt there will be many a New Year marketing prediction over the next few days.  The most common theme is likely to be that mass marketing will decline and be replaced by new and emerging channels and techniques. This year, I’m not going to make any such prediction. This year I’m standing in defence of mass marketing and mass media. I predict that mass marketing as a concept will be as strong this time next year as it is now.  I predict that marketing’s big beasts, the jumbo jets, supertankers and super-trucks of marketing otherwise known as TV, print and outdoor will not die in 2011 nor any time soon.  This year I’m flying the flag for the future of traditional mass marketing and the media channels that enable it.  Why? Because I think mass marketing has been tied down by too many critics for too long. Here then is my defence of mass marketing:

  1. Critics of mass marketing argue that it can’t work because it’s so “expensive”. This has to be a flawed argument. How can something not work simply because it is expensive? Things don’t fail because they’re expensive.  In fact, things that are expensive are, in my experience, likely to be of better quality and deliver a better experience. Yes, mass marketing is expensive from a capital perspective, but that’s because it delivers mass audiences – usually millions of consumers several times over in a campaign – at a very low unit cost. In other words, mass marketing delivers mass value. Here’s an example: If you are buying TV audience at £5 per thousand reaching 20m viewers five times then yes, it is going to cost £500,000  – but you will have delivered your message to a huge chunk of the UK population in a medium that builds brand credibility like no other.  The issue is not simply the overall cost of the activity, but whether or not the activity is delivering the brand or sales shifts required.  Unfortunately, not many of mass marketing’s critics understand how this type of value works. How many of these critics have examined the cost structures of mass marketing channels like TV and print?  How many of them know that it costs a tiny fraction of 1p to reach a consumer for 30 seconds on TV? How many of them realise that TV can be less expensive on a unit of audience basis than many online display, search or affiliate channels?
  2. Critics of mass marketing argue that it can’t work because it is “wasteful”. “It’s not targeted” the critics complain, “it reaches people who are not in your target audience” or “you are buying wastage”. But do they realise that the whole point of mass marketing is to sell products that large segments of the population want to buy? Food, drinks, home appliances, cars, computers, toys, mobile phones, holidays, credit cards, bank accounts, mortgages, furniture and so on. Mass marketing isn’t wasteful when used with products that almost everyone might want to buy in the near future.
  3. Some critics of mass marketing argue that it simply “doesn’t work”. But how many of these critics have pored over the results of the many tests, research projects, case studies and evaluation papers designed to quantify the sales effect of mass media? How many have studied the works of marketing academics and thought-leaders like Simon Broadbent, John Phillip Jones, Byron Sharp, Erwin Ephron, Giep Franzen or Colin MacDonald? How many of them understand the relationship between a £500k TV adspend and a 10% category share gain? Here’s an example. If a brand has a 10% share of a £200m category its share is worth £20m. If a mass media campaign costing £500k helps the brand increase share by 10% from £20m to £22m, then the adpsend of £500k has secured £2m in sales.
  4. Of course if points 1-3 fail to help you win the argument, you might want to ask one of mass marketing’s critics which brands they consume in different categories. Do they drink an unknown brand of soft drink, use an unknown make of PC, contract with a mobile phone network no-one has ever heard of or fly on that airline whose name no-one can remember?  No, they drink Coca-Cola, they use Apple, Dell or IBM, they make phone calls through O2, Orange and Vodafone and they fly BA, BMI, EasyJet or Virgin.  If these critics use a well known brand at least some of the time then somewhere along the way, mass marketing has done its job.
  5. If point 4 doesn’t work, you could invite a critic of mass marketing to tell Simon Cowell that TV and newspapers aren’t effective communication vehicles and see what he says. You might need to stand well back.

And finally, earlier this month the Advertising Association/Warc reported that UK advertising enjoyed its best year since 2004.  “In Q3 TV, out of home and internet were the top performers posting growth of 15.8%, 12.4% and 11% respectively. Direct mail posted a 7% rise, its first growth since Q1 2006″.Although the base was low in 2009 and the future remains “clouded by economic factors”, UK advertising expenditure is expected to increase by 2.3% in 2011.

Not quite dead yet then…. Here’s to a successful year for the big beasts of marketing in 2011.