Long Live Megaphone Marketing: A Rant from Oxford Road’s only Oxford Grad

I saw this statement on LinkedIn the other day: “Consumer decisions are no longer influenced by megaphone marketing.” It made me angry enough that now I’m here ranting about it in public. How undignified! Anyway, let’s get on with it!

It appears to have been an easy, valid thing to say; so on point; so in tune with the times. So many people have claimed this that I’ve lost count: mass-media doesn’t work; one-to-many doesn’t work; people tune out commercials that aren’t personalized (one of my favorite bogus claims). This all just happens to be completely false (like most things that are in tune with the times)! Perhaps the bigger issue here, which I’ll address in a future piece, is why such falsehoods are not routinely called out in marketing.

For now, I’ll acknowledge there is some validity to the point being made, inasmuch as the internet has made extremely precise targeting, and increasingly precise messaging, possible. It’s (supposed to be) more of an intimate, timely, tempting whisper in the ear now. Fine. And social media, specifically, has enabled brands and consumers to have more direct, intimate conversations. Yes, there’s a degree of legitimacy to these points (an overhyped one).

That doesn’t mean, however, that a way of marketing that’s worked since the 19th century has stopped working. There is ample evidence, from multiple sources, that suggests quite the opposite: that megaphone marketing is still working; in fact, working harder than ever; and that they are really important for success; and that they are even essential for meaningful, long-term growth (which of course is what marketing is supposed to be about). Where is the actual data that suggests megaphone marketing isn’t working anymore? I don’t believe I’ve seen ….. any.

Perhaps the source on LinkedIn is making a claim instead, that the way people are influenced is changing. I’d love to see the data behind that statement if, indeed, any exists… Since the Libet experiments, scientists have repeatedly shown that the brain fires (indicating a decision has been made) hundreds of milliseconds prior to people being consciously aware of any decision. This means that people are influenced – and decisions are made – subconsciously. This process is hard-wired into our neurology and has taken millions of years to evolve. It seems unlikely that our shiny new more-precise-targeting-options have changed it.

There is an awful lot more that could be said. Mercifully, for you, I’m resisting the temptation to rant at length.

David Ogilvy said: “I cannot think of any other profession which gets by on such a small corpus of knowledge.” We have been talking about data impacting marketing for many years now. Perhaps we need to think more broadly about what that means. Data in marketing is not just about exploiting customers.

Happily, the tides are turning. Binet & Field continue to demonstrate the primacy of mass media for growth. Sharp and Romaniuk go so far, it seems, as to claim it’s essential. Many of the visionaries in the business are destroying old models of decision-making and action (e.g. Feldwick, Heath, Zaltman). Our own data at Oxford Road repeatedly suggests that targeting is significantly over-valued in the marketplace.

So, while there are people actually paying attention to facts and data, there is hope for marketing yet. But blindly following the old rules simply because that’s the sh$t that’s always been done, and spouting forth claims that are baseless and even damaging to business hurt us all. These types of claims and – perhaps worse – the utter absence of accountability for them – are bad for marketers and bad for the companies they represent.

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