In with the old

In 1956, ‘psychic’ Jeanne Dixon was quoted as saying the 1960 US election would be won by a Democrat. She also said he would be assassinated or die in office, though not necessarily in his first term. That president was John F Kennedy and, yes, he was assassinated in 1963. Not surprisingly, the believers latched on and used it as evidence of her mystical soothsaying powers. The problem was that Dixon had followed up her earlier prediction with a new one in 1960 that said Kennedy wouldn’t win.  

Dixon made hundreds of incorrect guesses. But the joy of prediction is that her many mis-hits were largely forgotten and her one supposed big hit was remembered. Similarly, marcomms psychics are renowned for predicting the death of things—usually incorrectly—and, in the case of digital and social, occasionally ignoring evidence. 

Given the last issue of NZ Marketing—and the new StopPress Didge section—focuses on all things digital, we understand the importance of this realm to the industry. Consumers are there, creative possibilities seem limitless and it’s an area everyone is eager to learn more about. We’re excited about it too, but the evangelism of some digital proponents still seems slightly out of whack with reality. 

In many ways, the evidence that we have reached a tipping point in tech is nigh on irrefutable. In the US, the stock value of ‘new’ companies, such as Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon, is now around three times that of ‘old’ companies, such as Comcast, Newscorp and Disney. And with two thirds of the world’s population yet to go online, there’s plenty of scope for growth. Smartphone sales also overtook PC sales last year and tablets are expected to do the same in a few years, so mobile is likely to fuel more internet usage, more applications and more ways to advertise. 

Digital ad spend has followed quickly, with big growth in most markets. But, in New Zealand at least, these new tricks haven’t necessarily come at the expense of the old dogs. Digital has certainly forced them to change, and in many ways (like the rise in ‘social TV’) it’s made them better, but that pesky evidence Dixon’s supporters failed to look at shows that average time spent watching TV has increased by 30 minutes since 2000; magazine circulation and readership is up significantly in many cases; radio listenership is still high; and the box office was close to record levels last year. News media has been hit hardest, but, despite the declines—and the growing online eyeballs for trusted news brands—good old-fashioned paper is still popular and powerful in this country, especially in the regions. 

Part of the issue is that the industry attracts tech-savvy, early adopters, and the echo chamber makes it easy to get drawn into the cult of the new. But it pays to remember that those who don’t know what a hashtag is (#totesluddites) and sit down to watch the 6 o’clock news are still the majority. 

According to Nielsen, just 431,000 Kiwis used Twitter in October last year and, while Facebook was used by 2.7 million Kiwis to show off their latest meal/trip/witty comment/anger/baby/stupidity, there are still plenty of doubts around the commercial value of social engagement and buzz (Coca-Cola recently back-pedalled over comments social media didn’t impact short-term sales). As Business Insider founder Henry Blodget said: “Google is the best advertising product ever invented because it’s like advertising at a store. Facebook, meanwhile, is like advertising at a party.” That might change, but as its quest for revenue becomes more overt, it’s becoming a pretty expensive—and brutal—party for many brands to attend. And as my favourite advertising curmudgeon, The Ad Contrarian, wrote about the Super Bowl—and what he sees as the over-promise and under-delivery of digital and social: “Instead of worrying about ‘engaging in social and digital spaces’ with your imaginary ‘biggest fans’, how about making an intelligent spot for the other 110 million of us? … Every day, Facebook has an audience that is three times the size of the Super Bowl’s audience. That’s every day, not just once a year. Yet, in its entire history, not one person has ever mentioned or discussed or remembered a single fucking ad they’ve ever seen on Facebook.” 

The digital realm offers a boatload of exciting opportunities. But don’t forget your old shipmates. 

  • A version of this story originally appeared in the Jan/Feb edition of NZ Marketing. 

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