Is advertising a dirty word in 21st century marketing?

that ad will stop trafficWhen I was at uni studying mass communication, marketing was all about reaching as broad an audience as possible. Interrupting the thoughts and behaviour of the masses was the order of the day, and clever advertising was seen as a way to achieve that goal.

As a young, enthusiastic marketer, I remember feeling so envious of anyone who managed to get their foot in the door of a large ad agency. Unless you had a friend, family member or distant cousin working in the advertising world, it was difficult to get a look in anywhere. Those were the glory days, when working for an ad agency was seen as the pinnacle experience.

Nowadays, (although I’m sure ad companies are just as nepotistic as they always were) everything has changed, and I can’t help but wonder how the big, traditional advertising companies are faring now that businesses are starting to move away from traditional advertising in favour of social media marketing and content marketing.

Smart companies are getting into guerrilla marketing, content marketing and social media marketing in a big way, but still many struggle with the ball game because the rules have totally changed.

But does that mean there’s no place for broadcasting in the new-fangled 21st century marketing world?

Absolutely not!


If you’ve been following my blog for awhile now, as you may well know, I don’t advertise in traditional media and never have. The reason I started Content Marketing Cardiology is to share my knowledge about marketing without spending a small fortune on traditional advertising.

When I first kickstarted my local business Mumatopia, I had to steal from the family grocery budget to pay for my business name. There was no way I could afford to advertise in a magazine or newspaper, even if I wanted to.

But being resourceful and a bit spend-thrift has paid off.

Just the other day I met with a prospective client and the first thing that came out of her mouth was “I love your website. I read all of your articles!”  By the end of the conversation, she had made up her mind that she wanted to work with me and it had nothing to do with “closing” or anything markety or salesy like that (see this blog post for more info on why this approach works in health and service industries). I had given her the information she needed to make an informed decision and let her into my world. I didn’t have to pretend to be something I wasn’t or use a clever hook to reel her in. I simply had to be open to developing a new relationship.

So, what place is there for traditional advertising?

One of the big benefits of traditional ad campaigns is that they can solidify brand recognition. If you want to succeed and stay one step ahead of your competitors you’ll want your brand to be a household name amongst your target market!

That doesn’t mean you need to spread yourself thin. You just need to figure out where your ideal clients are hanging out and focus on publications and mediums that appeal to them.

What has changed is that advertising is no longer considered to be the most effective marketing tool for achieving brand recognition. It is a complimentary tool to inbound marketing instead. Word of mouth endorsements mean a lot more these days, because social media amplifies recommendations.

If you want to explore the traditional advertising road, consider this:

  • Make sure your ads are integrated with your online presence. Never let an ad be printed or broadcast without making it bleedingly obvious that you’re online. Including a Twitter handle is a great way to blend ad media with social media. With trade publications, always ask if you can include some editorial as well.
  • Use QR codes for fun stuff like competitions and freebies. My nine year old thinks QR codes contain the secrets of the universe. Every time he sees one, he begs me to scan them.
  • Be frugal and use publicity options wherever you can. Publicity is free and is more engaging than ads because someone else is talking about your brand. We’ll all say nice things about ourselves but when others say nice things, that’s pure gold.
  • Do some good ole-fashioned cross promotion and contra deals (If that’s allowed in your country. For instance, it’s not allowed in parts of the US). That might cost you some product or some time (if you’re offering a service freebie) but it’s a heck of a lot cheaper than placing an ad.
  • Look at online advertising options. Facebook ads are highly targeted to specific niches. It is worth experimenting with at least.

A word of caution about sponsored blog posts though. I get approached by branding agencies all the time, but I’ve knocked back just about every one (and I would never publish a sponsored post without saying that’s what it is) because it feels a bit icky. I’ve also been approached by guest bloggers who hide paid links in their blog posts. This is a big “no, no” as far as I’m concerned.

If you are going to approach blogs about including editorial about your business, instead write a press release (if you’re approaching a media site) or ask if you can write a guest post that is helpful for their audience and leave the salesy ad copy and links out of it. You’ll get a link to your website in your bio anyway and you’ll be far more credible.

Are you going to advertise in 2013? What are some creative ways you can increase your brand visibility?

  • Jo Cornelison

    Wow! I read your bio. You are one busy lady! Great article. The internet is an amazing thing. I love the fact that it give everyone an equal opportunity to succeed whether we have a big budget or not, or regardless of who we know or don’t know.

    • Cas McCullough

      Thanks Jo… nice to know someone has read it : ). Busy… slightly insane… take your pick! Thanks for your comment.