The ground moved beneath our feet.
There. It did it again.
That first tremor was the growing reality of gender equality. The second was the shrinking of mass media. These trends aren’t connected, but they’re both significant.
Gender equality is changing the nature of romance. Don’t believe me? Watch any romantic movie from 20 years ago and count the anachronisms, those interactions that belong to the past and do not seem to fit the present.
Gender equality also affects advertising and marketing in ways you might not expect.
Not many years ago, it was assumed that lovers would marry and buy a home and establish a life together. But then an entire generation of women were taught not to depend on men, but to establish careers and lives on their own.
That advice to young women changed the landscape in marketing. A study published by Pew Research Center indicates that in 1970, 84 percent of U.S.-born 30- to 44-yearolds were married. By 2007, that number had declined to just 60 percent, and if we extrapolate the trend into 2015, the percentage of married 30- to 44-year-olds is currently at 54.8 percent and falling. We went from 16 percent single to 46 percent single in just one generation.
A once-proud nation of families is evolving into a proud nation of individuals.
The motivations that drive husbands and fathers and wives and mothers are different from the motivations that drive individuals who have no one depending on them but themselves. Consequently, the language and logic of ad copy must be altered to connect with this altered audience.
The trend toward singleness is sociological.
The erosion of mass media is technological.
Each trend accelerates the other.
If the majority of a nation is watching the same TV shows at the same time, listening to the same hit songs at the same time, and receiving similar news from similar sources simultaneously, we can expect that nation to think and feel in similar ways.
Mass media ruled America in 1970. Radio was a Rock station, a Country station, a Talk station, an Easy Listening station, and an instrumental format called “Beautiful Music.” Then you had ABC, CBS, and NBC TV. Ted Turner wouldn’t create the first cable network until 1976, and Fox didn’t appear until 1986. When a movie left the theaters, it would go to the drive-in theaters, where it would be shown for a reduced price, and then it would appear on network television for free about a year later. DVRs, DVDs, and home videotapes did not exist. You either had to be where a movie was showing at exactly the right time or you missed it. This forced us to gather together at specific times for entertainment, where we all heard the same commercials.
Mass media brought us together physically, and it united us psychologically. It also gave advertisers a platform for telling their stories.
Advertising was easy in those days.
Today’s technology allows us to opt out of mass media. This is good for the individual, but it presents a significant challenge to the advertiser. The advertising opportunities created by new technology are highly targetable, but they’re also shockingly expensive. The most efficient thing we’ve found so far costs four times as much per person as broadcast radio. And, although the digital product gives us the ability to pinpoint-target a specific audience, that advantage doesn’t deliver anywhere near enough benefit to justify the inflated cost. This is not theoretical. We’ve learned these things through testing.
I’ll bring this to a conclusion: We’re approaching the end of a golden time when courageous advertisers can invest money in mass media and see their businesses grow as a result. My suspicion is that we’ve got perhaps five to seven more years before retail businesses and service businesses will be forced to begin playing by a whole new set of rules. No one yet knows what those new rules might be, but this we do know: The sharply rising costs of digital advertising are not being offset by a rise in efficiency.
Advertisers should buy mass media while the masses can still be reached. Reaching people one at a time doesn’t offer nearly the return on investment.
There is no more efficient media in the world today than broadcast radio. Sell the people you care about a long-term schedule and make sure they have great radio ads.