April 22, 2020

The changing world of advertising isn’t actually changing

By Blair Burchill

The more things change, the more they stay the same. It fits perfectly with advertising and brand communications in this “modern” digital age.


The actual saying, as we all know, is: The more things change, the more they stay the same.

It fits perfectly with advertising and brand communications in this “modern” digital age. I’m either regularly told, or I’ll read social media posts, that we are in a golden age of storytelling and that making a connection with audiences is more important now than ever before.
I tend to think to myself, “Hmmm, that’s not quite correct.” Advertising has always been about storytelling. Making a connection to the consumer has always been the task of advertising.

The first paid radio commercial, in 1922 New York, was a 50-minute long storytelling exercise of why a condo development was the place you should live. The aim was to make a connection with listeners and sell them the dream of life at far-flung (in those days) Jackson Heights. Since 1922, radio has been packaged into a standard 30-second spot with a premium paid for 60-seconds, has since gone digital, and now is likely to be consumed on a streaming app like Spotify – which is extremely targetable, allowing you to reach the audience you want without wasting media spend on the rest of the population who aren’t buying your product.

However, the same challenge faces the marketing director and the advertising agency: how to make a condo development far away from the more desirable parts of the city sound like the place a millennial wants to buy into. You’ll have to tell a story, build a dream and make it come to life.

The only real difference today is the number of platforms/media channels available. There are paid and free* social media channels, traditional formats for TV and radio as well as the digital and streaming versions of each. Out-Of-Home (OOH) advertising is also increasingly becoming digital, allowing you to respond rapidly with tactical offers mid-campaign. There are also considerations to the size of the screen in which the content is being viewed, especially if it is a digital package combined with print, such as any newspaper media buy. And with attention spans becoming shorter and shorter (you still with me?), the reality is that you now have, perhaps, two minutes of their time…if you’re lucky.

Radio, TV, OOH, print and direct mail (DM) aren’t dead. Digital and social aren’t the only answer, nor are they to be discounted. A good media mix for a client with the right budget will still contain a combination of many of the above. Some media channels may carry a more strategic message, others more tactical offers that can be switched in and out, according to performance which, of course, can undergo A-B testing on digital channels – you know, see if engaging offer A is more appealing than engaging offer B.

So, continue to find what separates your brand/product/service from the rest and find the right channels to reach your audience, because your marketing budget won’t afford all of them. Tell your story with great advertising that will engage your audience, just like how it was done in 1922.

Because the more media channels have changed, the more advertising remains the same.

*Free media doesn’t remove the need for good creative. Positioning your brand as credible and trustworthy comes from strong, compelling and well produced visual content, carefully crafted messaging, and with content being updated as frequently (or infrequently) as needed, in order to properly engage your audience and cater to their content consumption habits and activity. More on this topic soon…


Blair Burchill , Strategy Director + Fractional CMO

Blair has 25+ years experience in advertising agencies from Ottawa to Brisbane to London. His experience transcends consumer brands from airlines and lottery operations in Australia, to petroleum and fast food in the UK, to government and public utilities here in Ottawa. His aim is always to find a point of difference for a brand that is based on an inherent truth, and bring it to life with campaigns in targeted media channels from traditional to digital and social. In addition, Blair spent over two years on the client side as the national director of marketing for a Cisco UC provider in Australia, working on B2B lead generation campaigns. His interests are advertising, rugby and summer.