It’s good to take a step back from things and appreciate the upside of progress. For example, in marketing, the twin luxuries of targeting and tracking in advertising.
We didn’t used to have targeting like we do now. We guessed a lot. We studied the media guides to guess who we’d be reaching if we advertised in one magazine or another, or the newspaper, or radio. Only the huge companies could afford to advertise over the major media, where they’d reach millions of undifferentiated people. You could do that only if a lot of those millions were potential customers, which was true only for big general consumption items like foodstuffs, insurance, and toothpaste. The rest of us had to struggle with what research we could afford, the media kits, and educated guesses.
And tracking? We’d try to ask callers, on the phone, where they’d heard about us. Only a third would have an answer, and of those, less than half made any sense. We used to use the little media response cards in those magazines that offered them, so that one in a thousand readers could punch the card and send it back to the magazine, which would compile the information and send us addresses, where we’d send literature.
Seth Godin’s latest post, Selling advertising, is a reminder for me of how good we have it these days, basically because of these twin luxuries: targeting and tracking. He divides advertising into the “rational kind” and the “glamorous kind.” He defines rational advertising as “advertising that works … measurable direct advertising.” The rest of advertising, “the kind that people think of when they think of Super Bowl or Time Magazine,” doesn’t work.
It’s hard to argue with that today. Why settle for less when you can get targeting and tracking? I also think that, in a world plagued with the downside of progress (global warming comes to mind quickly, I don’t want to dwell on what else), we should at least pause and note it when we see the upside. Advertising used to be very different from what it is now.