Which Came First, The Product or The Advertisement?
I might be the only idiot left who watches commercials on television anymore, but I just cant seem to help myself. I am obsessed with understanding how companies message their products and how they attempt to project their brand image through a thirty second short story. Do they want to be funny, serious, lavish or conservative? You can even tell who their intended audience is by the messaging of their content. Most people speed through them on the DVR but I’m actually obsessed.
So what is the problem?
My “advertising awareness” got me thinking… “Which came first, the product or the advertisement?” I mean, do companies who spend a lot of money producing and publishing more TV commercials and big budget advertising campaigns grow their products through their advertising or are their advertisements really just their way of reassuring the buyer that they have made the right decisions.
I recently saw a commercial for Amazon.com. They were advertising their new tablet and website functionality and blah blah, but I didn’t understand why this would be beneficial to them. I mean, they built their entire company online by delivering a great product to their consumer. Did the television advertising increase their market share? Have they really seen an increase in revenue due to new television commercials?
How about Coca Cola? Would people stop buying their product if the company quit advertising on TV? Would you stop drinking Coke just because they were no longer putting it in your face 24/7? And vice-versa, when was the last time you dropped everything and ran out to buy something just because you saw it on TV?
I get it… Kind of.
Now I understand that advertising has its role. Exposure is the ultimate purpose of advertising and there are few mediums which can generate as much exposure as national television advertising. This is not an article about whether advertising as a hole is effective, only to ask whether advertising can be used to build a brand, drive sales or just as an instrument to reassure buyers that they are making the right decision.
Back to the the question at hand.
Which came first, the product or the advertisement? In my opinion the product has to come first. Don’t get me wrong, you can fake it for a while with a deluge of media buys and advertising spending but spending that money on product development, web distribution and customer support might be a better idea for most companies.
I deal with this all the time with clients who want a huge beautiful website but give me nothing to put on it. They want me to build them an empire online without first building a product worthy of an empire itself. The problem with this approach and the reason my entire strategy as a consultant/content creator has changed is that people just don’t care. They don’t give a shit whether you advertise on TV or on the radio or whether you spend $5,000 a month on pay per click advertising. They just don’t want to hear it from you.
Well who do they want to hear it from then?
They want to ask their friends and social network and they want them to tell them about the great experience they had with your company, and how they would recommend them again in the future. This is what you should strive to spend your advertising dollars on. Instead of blasting your message with a shotgun approach and spending obscene amounts of money on ineffective advertising you should invest that money in building an army of advertising evangelists.
You should be so focused on making sure that the people who do support your business are so happy with the product you deliver that they can not help but tell someone about how amazing your company is. An advertising evangelist is worth their weight in gold. Constantly telling people about your store, service or product and propagating your message to their friends in a manner that can only lead to more business.
Now rinse, lather and repeat!
So before you run off to try and build your next product through advertising, think about this; Are you already doing everything you can to engage your customers? Would you even know what to do with that spike in web traffic? Is your website set up to handle that amount of traffic or to convert that traffic into actionable sales leads?
The companies who spend millions of dollars on advertising also spend a considerable amount more on their overall marketing infrastructure. And while I agree that product branding and a companies marketing message can make a huge difference in the success of their product I have no delusions that you can build a brand through advertising alone. It must be done through deliberate development of an amazing product with happy customers as the only acceptable outcome.
Cheesy marketing tactics, awkward interruptions through the course of the average consumers day are no linger enough to get your product to the next level. You need to expose your audience to the culture and let them peek behind the veil of your artificial advertising. Become real with your message and branding and you might just be surprised at the positive effect it has on your bottom line over time.
What do you think? Did I get it wrong? Have any ideas about how advertising is being used effectively/ineffectively by a business you know/support? Let me know all about it in the comments section.
One more thing to add…
Because the companies with crappy products bid up the prices on the ad spots to oblivion, obviously anyone who invest in product quality could not afford to be seen.
You got it right on some concepts, but there are a couple reasons why people use big budget marketing campaigns vs. making their products better. Building truly quality products with a unique value proposition is actually quite expensive unless your a product engineer yourself and are a one man shop getting started. Quality products come from small companies that want to make their mark and have human resources invested in becoming the brand vs exploiting it for quarterly numbers. Companies that don’t have a million dollars for beta product dev often gravitate to a 10K website and 10K a month marketing campaign until revenue supports that product design.
Medium and large companies can hypnotize you into thinking your product is great with approved marketing budgets that are less expensive than trying to get middle managers to change their minds and faster than people who feel like they are low paid wage slaves can innovate. Truly a sad proposition, but the best products cant be found in most cases unless you hear about it “through the grapevine” on the way up, and before the company is bought out.
So in short, men in suits are masters of numbers, not product development and that is the driving force behind most companies. It takes great people to create great products, something Steve Jobs knew. Top heavy companies topple before long, its a function of a companies life cycle. Stay away from VC and do not sell out if your company is to stay on top!
Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Glad you appreciated the image.
I agree with many of your points and I think you are correct that we have allowed top heavy corporations to skew our capitalist system.
We have perverted all of it in the name of greed and growth.
I do however hope that we have a chance to turn things around but I think that our corruption has crossed a line and for that we are going to have to pay. Dearly I am afraid. We will all have to bear the cost for the actions of few but that is how the system works. Unfortunately.
And until we are willing to change the system then there is not a whole lot we can do or expect to change.