The Case for Advertising

The growth of online advertising has been enormous in the last ten years, and now it makes up a significant portion of all advertising worldwide. Most top tier brands spend millions of dollars a month per digital platform, including search and cost-per-click advertising, like Google ads. Companies are also sinking major dollars into mobile advertising and social media marketing.

In business, there’s never a shortage of things to spend money on, and small businesses will always spend money differently than big businesses. With global brands, spending millions per year — or even per month — is a matter of course, whereas a small business must always be more conscious and demanding of advertising’s return.

Depending on what size of small business you’re involved in, you’ve bought billboards or worried over your phonebook ads, or you’ve done some direct mail. Maybe you’ve done some radio or local cable TV. You almost certainly have bought an ad in a newspaper, or maybe even a trade magazine. Maybe you have booths at trade shows every year. It is possible that you don’t do but one or two of these things, and maybe instead of everything else you pay one of those kids to stand on a street corner and twirl a sign.

The one common thread through all of these activities is a lack of measurement. A cable TV media seller can tell you how many people are probably watching during a certain time, and a radio station can guess at their reach. A billboard company can estimate how many eyeballs you’ll get in a month, and a magazine can quote their circulation. They can do these things because this is the only measurable commodity they have to offer, the only valuable reason to any of these things.

And certainly they are valuable. I am not one of those dudes that runs a digital agency and says you should never do any traditional marketing ever again. That’s silly and ill-advised. All of these methods are useful and accomplish specific things. My only case against them — an argument that didn’t matter when you didn’t have a choice — is that they are tough to measure. It is hard to know precisely what you get for your money.

I often hear measurement used as an argument against digital media, and it is an argument I don’t understand. For every dollar I spend for my clients, I know exactly where the money went and what it produced. If we’re running a campaign geared to brand awareness, I can look at my analytics and know exactly how much traffic an ad produced, and what those people did once I got them in the door. If we’re trying to bump up net new sales, I can track lead generation using that same data in slightly modified sets.

The other argument I hear is that other forms of advertising are easy and digital is too difficult. I think this argument is borne of the old ad agency model, where you had to be able to buy major network ads or other kinds of massive media buys to have a chance to play in the real advertising sandbox. The alternative most companies used was some sort of in-house marketing that produced simple ads for distribution via traditional media. Either that or a service like Yellow Pages would offer to make an ad for you, and what you got in return was a largely generic, indistinct half page with your name and phone number, the epitome of getting what you pay for.

This was better than nothing, but things have changed. What you may not know is that the whole process of digital advertising has a very low barrier to entry, cost-wise. In fact, the cost per impression with digital marketing is often cheaper than other kinds of media. Combined with the ability to measure what you’re doing, digital should be a first and best step for most small and medium businesses. If you’re going to spend any money on advertising at all, you have enough money to advertise in digital media and to hire an ad agency to do it right.

You no longer have to spend millions to get in the game. It is possible for you to have fresh, creative ad campaigns with incredibly efficient deployments for your business. What’s more: You really should. It is impossible for you to be objective about your own message and image. Ask for help and get started, and soon enough you’ll be getting in front of the people who are already looking for you, and you’ll know exactly what it cost to make that happen.

Josh Berthume