Bob Hoffman‘s keynote to the Radio Advertising Bureau was something special. Profanity laced and full of contempt for online advertising, Bob played to a room full of terrestrial broadcasters asserting that “the advertising industry has become the web’s lapdog.”
As a person who prides himself on “breaking the rules” and cursing with conviction, I can sincerely relate to Bob. With that said, he is either in denial or truly does not understand digital media or how programmatic advertising works. Given his tenure (41 years in the agency business), agenda (selling books), and constituents (traditional media outlets), it is easy to see why his bullshit was met with thunderous applause.
To be fair, many of Bob’s arguments have some truth. Traditional media (TV, radio, print) is not dead. Brand building in the digital world is not the same as in traditional channels. Fraud is a problem in the display advertising ecosystem. However, it is these half-truths and misinformation that will continue to keep the radio industry in the 20th century.
Here’s where Bob’s message misses the boat. Traditional radio can no longer use “reach” as its sole value proposition. When is the last time you purchased a radio? Do you even know where radios are sold? The key differentiator for broadcasters is the power of audio. This power can take the form of your favorite artist’s music, the radio host’s voice, or a brand’s distinct sound. I challenge the industry to articulate the unique characteristics of radio that make it the best channel to share an audio message. This brings me to my first point.
Audio is a medium.
Musicians are no longer tied to radio in order to develop a brand. Ask Justin Bieber what digital has to offer. “Radio” personalities aka podcasters can now build a brand and audience by simply posting a link on Soundcloud, Audioboom, or Hipcast to name a few. Brands are also utilizing the audio medium to target specific audiences. Ask Trulia where 50%+ of their leads originate. Then ask, how do they target college-educated married women aged 25-44 accurately using traditional media. This leads me to my next point.
Digital allows for real and relevant targeting.
I can anticipate the Hoffman zealots ready to play the Nielsen card. It baffles me how we can send people to the moon or drive cars with batteries and still rely on statistical extrapolations and inferences to identify an audience. If you’re in New York and you listen to 105.1, who is your real audience? There are many marketers and agencies today who cannot operate without a Nielsen rating. If I was a brand, I would be very concerned. While digital is not the holy grail, it affords marketers with the capabilities to identify their audience, target their audience, and most importantly adjust their campaigns during the process. Mr. Hoffman refers to the “scientific method” when referencing his distrust with advertising experts, but traditional channels do not allow for the level of specificity or control that true science requires. Simply saying “this genre reaches this type of audience” and “yes, the spot ran” will not be a sufficient answer for the CMOs of the future. This leads me to my third point.
Digital is accountable.
If a spot runs on the air, did someone hear it? “Yes, didn’t you receive the affidavit?” For all the talk of online fraud, even the holy grail of measurement is not the bastion of authentication. When John Wanamaker said, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half”, he was not talking about digital. I will certainly acknowledge fraud in online advertising, but at least there are methods to detect it. Saying traditional media does not have this issue reminds me of the line in The Unusual Suspects, “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” And now for my final point and one not addressed during the keynote.
Audio is mobile and mobile is digital.
Mobile devices are everywhere and mobile advertising is growing faster than any other channel. Some may even argue that mobile is not a channel. At any rate, audio is a natural medium for mobile. If we use the “evidence of our own eyes” (I love that quote, Bob), we can “see” the number of headphones plugged into mobile devices around us. We can see Apple buy Beats. We can see the next evolution of audio devices such as Pono and Nrml. Marketers who fail to recognize the seismic shift in consumer behavior and the proliferation of new distribution platforms will not lose today or even tomorrow. I’m not being apocalyptic. However, marketers will find themselves battling a brand that “gets it” and they won’t even see it coming.
So Bob, thanks for ruffling feathers and being contrarian. The industry needs people like you to help distinguish people like me, digital defenders and champions of innovation. I think Edgar Bronfman Jr. may have some sound advice:
“We used to fool ourselves … We used to think our content was perfect just exactly as it was. We expected our business would remain blissfully unaffected even as the world of interactivity, constant connection and file sharing was exploding. And of course we were wrong. How were we wrong? By standing still or moving at a glacial pace, we inadvertently went to war with consumers by denying them what they wanted and could otherwise find and as a result of course, consumers won.”
It’s getting cold in here.