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5 Popular Lies

2010 April 18
by Greg Satell

Repetition is the soul of wit, or so it would seem.

Lies are always convenient, unencumbered as they are by the burdens of fact, but if they are repeated enough they can become popular as well.  As lies spread, they will eventually encounter themselves and become self affirming. (Oh, you heard that too?).

Here’s a quick guide to five of my favorite lies which are making the rounds as we speak:

Nobody Watches TV Anymore

Of course, this is an exaggerative.  I don’t think anybody really is saying that literally nobody is watching TV, just that the medium is declining and people are watching much less of it.  With expanding digital and mobile media, people  finally have more interesting things to do, like tweeting and making fun of their boss on Facebook, so obviously they must be watching TV less.

It sounds reasonable, but is completely untrue..  The 2010 Super Bowl was the most watched TV event ever, breaking a record that stood for more than thirty years.  Moreover, as this article in Ad Age reports, Americans are spending more time in front of the TV than ever before – nearly five hours a day!

Some might say that we have to be careful when using averages.  As the population ages, it’s logical that the increased percentage of retirees might nudge up the TV stats.  However, a recent Nielsen report shows that teens are watching more TV as well, up about 6% over the past five years.

The demise of TV is truly a great lie – seemingly reasonable and forward looking while also not bearing even a passing resemblance to the facts.

Advertisers Are Finally Starting To Understand the Power of Digital

This lie is becoming a “golden oldie.”  It seems to have persisted in almost every one of the last fifteen years (with a brief hiatus after the dotcom crash).

Again, the story line is compelling: clueless fat cats in corporate boardrooms all of the sudden have been awakened from their slumbers and have begun to accept truths that they can no longer ignore.  The tide has turned and a new day has arrived!

In actuality, advertisers have been experimenting with digital since the beginning and, in fact, marketing managers go to great lengths to show that they are digitally savvy.  However, beyond direct response, the performance of digital campaigns has been disappointing.

Most likely, digital advertising will attain the current market share of TV in 10 or 15 years, or roughly three decades since its inception.  Given that the web is the most rapidly adopted technology in history, this is a woeful result.

As long as the digital media players continue to blame those who “don’t get it” for their own lousy performance, the lie will persist, money will be lost and businesses will fail.

Pepsi dropped the Super Bowl to Spend $20 million in Social Media

I scratch my head about this one, because the math doesn’t work – a Super Bowl Ad only costs $2.5 million.  Nevertheless, the notion seems to be a favorite on Twitter and digital marketing blogs.

The real story is that Pepsi is giving $20 million away to charity, which they will promote on their own web site and on a Facebook fan page.  While innovative and admirable, it’s tough to see how the promotion will provide much of a boost to social media business plans.

Moreover, the Pepsi Corporation not only did not abandon the Super Bowl, but was the second largest advertiser (tied with Paramount Pictures), buying three spots for their Doritos brand.  As for the Super Bowl itself, it was sold out once again with multiple digital and tech advertisers.

If every time a major marketer decides to experiment with a new strategy the digital world touts it as a harbinger of things to come, it will never adopt the integrative approach it needs to become a real player in the media industry.

It’s All About the Conversation

Apparently, for decades companies could be successful by gleefully ignoring their consumers. Now, as the story goes, the public demands not only service, but conversation.  This lie puzzles me, but I guess the rationale is that since everybody has supposedly stopped watching TV they are lonely and need a social life.

Obviously, companies have long known that listening to consumers is essential and have long spent billions every year on focus groups and other research.  Social media does offer some exciting new corporate communication tools and is making listening easier and more effective.  That’s extremely valuable.

In the end, however, marketers need to get their message across and that requires broadcasting.  Two-way dialogues, for all of their charms, just aren’t nearly efficient enough.

The notion that people constantly want to actively engage media reminds me of when my brother visited me in Kiev a few years ago and asked me if I watch foreign films.  “Watch ‘em?” I said, “I’m living in one!”

The truth is that we like to be entertained passively because most of our lives are filled with things that require our constant attention like work, family and friends.  The last thing we want is to have an ongoing dialogue with every brand we interact with.

I Have a Right to My Opinion!

I saved this for last because it’s my favorite.  It’s undeniably true in the abstract, but invariably a lie when it’s invoked.  No one (except perhaps for the heavily medicated) actually means that they would like to hold an opinion but are being prevented from doing so.

What they really want is to have their opinions taken seriously and are frustrated when an uncaring world doesn’t comply.  So they blurt out, “I have a right to my opinion!”  In truth, they aren’t asserting their own rights but seek to restrict others from making honest judgments.

Of course, the matter at hand usually has nothing to do with opinions at all, but facts.  Unfortunately, it’s hard to muster the requisite amount of self-righteous indignation while proclaiming “I have a right to my own set of facts!”

There are some people who simply want to believe “old media” and “old marketers” who earn billions of dollars of profits every year continue to do so by way of some mass delusion, no matter what the reality is.  Unfortunately, facts, like paying taxes, can only be avoided for so long.

Of course, these are just my opinions…And I have a right to them.

– Greg

30 Responses
  1. April 18, 2010

    Great post Greg (as always). Good food for thought. I ran across this post a few weeks back and am in the process of creating a post around the idea of the “digital aristocracy,” or something close to it 😉 http://www.number27.org/today.php?d=20100319

    I think you’ll enjoy it.

    Rasul

    Greg Reply:

    Rasul,

    Great! Let me know when it’s up

    – Greg

  2. Keir permalink
    April 19, 2010

    Greg,
    Not sure but the Doritos ads you refer to are made for $100 by Doritos fans, sent in and judged. The “best” makes it to the Superbowl and wins $5 MM this year as opposed to the “in yer face” (other parts of the body) effort that won it last year and netted the 2 brothers who made it $1 MM.
    Need to check out the figures, but you get my point. 😉

    Greg Reply:

    Keir,

    I think we’re mixing issues: One about crowdsourcing another about media. The “lie” is that Pepsi abandoned the Super Bowl to spend $20 million social media, with the subtext that this was some kind of move away from traditional media.

    It’s hard to make that case when not only did they not spend anything on social media, but also where one of the biggest investors in Super Bowl advertising.

    – Greg

  3. April 19, 2010

    Love the paragraph about being entertained passively. Completely agree, and I think it ties in to your last lie, about consumers wanting the right to be acknowledged. The point of all marketing is to connect with the consumer in some way and make them feel like the product was made just for them or can somehow make their lives better. Social media is just a different framework.

    Greg Reply:

    Nic,

    Thanks. I agree with you about social media. There are some fantastic new opportunities there, but they are new opportunities. They don’t replace the old ones nor should they try to.

    – Greg

  4. April 19, 2010

    Great post. In particular I liked the last lie. Unfortunately, there are many people who seemingly don’t know the difference between opinion and fact. Careful Greg, if you educate the world on your last lie, a lot of political movements and politicians will be terminated.

    Greg Reply:

    Byron,

    Not in the Post-Soviet world!

    – Greg

  5. April 20, 2010

    Love the paragraph on the “conversation.” It all becomes too much chatter. For me, I end up having an aversion to the product (much like a friend coming down the aisle towards you and you quickly change aisles to avoid them). SHUT UP! Send me coupons, but don’t ask me how I like to use your product, did I enjoy the holiday and would I like to post pictures on your fan page of me with your product.

    Thanks for your insight.

    Greg Reply:

    Pam,

    I’m glad you liked it (but won’t ask you to post pictures of your holiday:-)

    – Greg

  6. Bob Kalsey permalink
    April 20, 2010

    A fine post, Greg. (Because I agree with you.) My favorite quotation is “It ain’t what you don’t know that hurts you, it’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” Thanks for pointing out a few things people think they know for sure.

    re: conversation–
    Marketing has always been a conversation, as you have written. What’s changed is simply that consumers have easier ways to message other consumers and companies. Rarely does that rise to a true “conversation,” but if calling it that makes consumers and companies feel better, I guess that’s okay. One thing all the hype about conversations does is give marketers a different way to think about aspects of what they do, and there’s value in that as well.

    Greg Reply:

    Bob,

    Thanks.

    I agree with you about conversations, but there are exciting new tools and that does change the game slightly.

    What’s annoying is when people assume that nobody thought of listening to consumers before or that one-to-one marketing can somehow trump the ability to reach hundreds of millions within a few days. It’s a bit hard to take.

    – Greg

  7. April 20, 2010

    Nice ones. I’ve been hearing those all too often.

    You missed one though. Hispanics are only watching Spanish TV.

    Or even…”the best way to reach Hispanics is through Spanish Language TV”

    Inspired by your “lies” I did some scary, ugly back-of-the-napkin math: Truth is, 67% of the time, they’re watching English. Ouch.

    Check out my math:

    http://bit.ly/bzwpfq

    Greg Reply:

    Ken,

    Very nice. Another thing you might want to try is to take a few markets and see what happens to Spanish skew with a basket of stations. Often, because mainstream stations already have a high Hispanic composition, it’s easy to overbuy Hispanic only stations.

    – Greg

  8. April 21, 2010

    In Kiev, you were lucky to be living in only one foreign film. You could have been living in a half a dozen, or more, and could have been forced to know all the different casts and situations and plot points, and to switch from one to another at a moment’s notice. That’s how I feel sometimes, and I’m in California.

    Greg Reply:

    Robert,

    Nope, just one at a time, that’s how I’ve survived so long (I’m in Turkey now).

    – Greg

  9. Mili Lewis permalink
    April 21, 2010

    Hi Greg,

    Interesting post. It just highlights that digital provides a new tool, or channel for what has to be done. It’s like the choice of letter, telegram, telex, fax, phone call, e-mail and then previously, smoke signals, semaphor, mirrors, radio morse code. The choice depends on what you are sending, to whom and the best way of getting it there within your budget, or capability, eg not everyone had access to morse code and if they could access it, they may not have been able to ‘read and write it ‘ No doubt the messages were always for the same reason, passing information and possibly requiring a response, it’s just the media changed, or some interpretation had to be done. There is rarely anything really new, just as you say, it’s people’s certainty creating problems.

    Greg Reply:

    Mili,

    Great points! Thanks

    – Greg

  10. April 22, 2010

    Greg, great stuff! I do particularly like the last section about “I have a right to my opinion!” You always cut through the bull.

    Thanks again for posting great stuff.

    James
    .-= James Snider´s last blog ..The Power of that little “TacTacToe” Thingy =-.

    Greg Reply:

    Thanks, James!

    – Greg

  11. May 17, 2010

    Dear Greg, I really appreciate this post. In marketing, at some point, there is a certain congruity of illogic, stupidity, shreds of truth, and complete ignorance of communications. It’s not that the commercial intent isn’t worthy but sometimes when they all meet each other, they form a kind of glue, and it’s pretty hard pull apart all the bits.

    Greg Reply:

    Michael,

    Thanks for a great metaphor! I hope you don’t mind if I use it at some point:-)

    – Greg

  12. May 17, 2010

    I disagree a little on the Conversations topic.

    I am bombarded with broadcast ads on tv, radio, cinema, print, outdoor etc. If a brand wants to approach me on social media, a place that i associate with information sharing with people I know, it better not be dumbly broadcasting ads at me.

    If it doesn’t add real value or somehow engage me beyond the other forms of media, i will always unfollow, defriend, block application etc 🙂

    Greg Reply:

    Chris,

    It’s a valid point. However, the other side is efficiency, and broadcasting works, and measurably so (although with fragmentation, not as well as it used to).

    So while conversations are worthwhile, they aren’t nearly enough.

    – Greg

  13. Mike Pascale permalink
    May 21, 2010

    Nice article, Greg.
    I have to ask how in the world you are able to write these on a daily basis AND answer every comment and still get your work done! I hope this *is* your job and you are well paid for it because you devote a great amount of effort and skill to it daily. I hope it’s paying off handsomely for you, as it’s genuine content rather than the usual spam that often passes for “content” on other sites (and in CA threads)!

    As for the lies, I sure would love to have a genuine conversation with some companies, especially about their customer service…Unfortunately when I call, I either get nothing but automated responses, or someone speaking with an accent as thick as peanut butter. 🙂

    Best of continued success to you and all you do.

    –Mike

    Greg Reply:

    Mike,

    Actually I post only twice a week, and most of the posts are related to my job. Another thing is that I keep a reserve, so I don’t write two posts every week. Sometimes I write more, sometimes I write none. Often, when by the time they are up the posts are weeks (and sometimes months) old.

    – Greg

  14. June 4, 2010

    Hi Greg;
    Been away from Social Media for a while and so good to get back, especially to something like this with real meat. Thanks.
    Like Byron, I especially like the last one as we are dealing with just this issue now, ourselves. The world of SEO is filled with snakeoil sales people who claim just this as their mantra. Out latest post sheds some light on the “lies” which are perpetrated by – dare I use the word, “gurus”on this blog?
    Perhaps I’m being a little harsh here, as I’m sure many of the folks involved, just like we were ourselves, were not actually aware of the real search volumes and were equally misguided by Google’s Adword’s tool. Either way, your post highlights the lie and the process which leads up to it. And that’s, as Toad said, a Good Thing. Well done!
    .-= Eric Goldman´s last blog ..Google’s “search volume” estimates are not what you think =-.

    Greg Reply:

    Eric,

    Good to see you again. Have a nice weekend.

    – Greg

  15. July 2, 2010

    Well done, Greg.

    You make good points, as you often do in your posts.

    Just an aside… Most of the lies you attribute to people (either as individuals or the companies they represent) in marketing or advertising.

    The HR world and the university world classify marketing/advertising people as “communications” people.

    That classification has done great damage to the field of personal communications. Marketing and advertising people often, as your piece on “Lies” demonstrates, MIS-communicate or communicate misinformation or disinformation. While they intend to communicate, the intention of the communication often centers on a deception; wanting the listener/reader to act in a way s/he may not have acted in the absence of the message in question.

    A “good” marketer/advertiser, in my humble opinion, educates the listener/reader about a product or service that, when they acquire it, will improve their lives (or the lives of those they care about, or the world) in a way they knew not before hearing the message in question. Further, it will have an improvement value greater than the sale price.

    Let us cease calling marketing and/or advertising communications. Maybe then our interpersonal communications will begin to improve.

    Keep pushing the idea envelope, Greg.

    Charles R Demers, PhD
    Principal
    AMI International
    Author: Communicate Clearly NOW!

    Greg Reply:

    Charles,

    Thanks and you make some good points – I’ve always liked McCann Erickson’s slogan “Truth well told.”

    However, the communications moniker does make some sense. It’s a realization that advertising is just one part of the puzzle which includes PR, customer relationship management, etc.

    In any case, I get what you mean.

    – Greg

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