You’ve Got to Tell to Sell

There are many schisms in the world of marketing: above the line vs. below the line, traditional vs. digital, messaging vs. engagement, and so on. But I think I’ve uncovered a new one, and it has huge ramifications for brands to win in the digital age: reductive vs. expansive.

From the 1950s, when TV became the dominant advertising medium, until a decade or so ago, we operated in a reductive era. Successful brands reduced their marketing message to an instantaneous, singular thought in print ads and TV spots. The best of these reductive messages created an emotional bond, and those bonds, in theory, translated into sales at the cash register.

But a new marketing era began in the late ’90s: the expansive era. The rise of the Internet meant that brands could no longer be only reductive. Whereas traditional media is expensive and limited, the Web provides brands with cheap, unlimited space to provide more — this “more” being, at the very least, information.

The fact that we live in an expansive era is demonstrated with a single word: “Google.” Processing over 3 billion searches per day, Google is the single most valuable media company in the world, with a market capitalization that exceeds Disney’s, Time Warner’s, Viacom’s, CBS’s and News Corp.’s combined. The reason Google is so valuable is because it’s the linchpin of the expansive, information-driven age. It links seekers of information to providers of information in the most accurate and efficient way. It proves that there’s a marketplace for information unlike any we have ever known. And modern brands must compete in that marketplace.

Unfortunately, the reductive marketing era has left brands ill-equipped to compete in the new, expansive era. Case in point: Recently we received an RFP from a well-known brand in the health and beauty-care category. Now, this is a brand easily found at any Wal-Mart, Target or local drugstore. It competes in a highly confusing category with a broad range of consumer choices at a wide array of price points. It’s the kind of situation where consumers beg for information to help guide their purchase decisions. Total budget for the Web, according to the RFP: $200,000! This same brand, like so many others sold at mass retail, spends many millions of dollars on traditional ads.

I had our media team call Google and find out how many queries per month this category receives from consumers. Answer: nearly 500,000. And this particular brand doesn’t show up in any of the search results. A half- million hand-raising prospects a month and Brand X is nowhere to be found.

Then I took a look at Brand X’s current Web site. Maybe the Google hand-raisers won’t find the site, but perhaps viewers of its ads will somehow find their way there. Perusing the site, not even the most basic information about the products — like how they work or why they are superior to the competitive products in the market — could be found. Instead, the site is wrapped in the reductive metaphors and language of the current ad campaign. In its attempt to be clever and “integrated,” the site utterly ignores the primary, expansive role of the Internet.

On the Web, we aren’t trying to interrupt someone’s enjoyment of their favorite TV show. A Web visitor actually takes the time to enter our URL or click on an ad banner or click on a link in a search-engine result (providing we ensure that the brand shows up there). They’re coming to the site looking for information about products and services. When this happens, our primary job is to deliver said information. If we manage to entertain them while they’re there, that’s a bonus — we shouldn’t do it at the expense of providing information.