Momentous milestone? U.S. advertising dips below 1% of GDP for the first time in living memory.

sdThe advertising industry has often been characterized as “boring.”  This 2014 analytical article from Bloomberg encapsulates the argument pretty succinctly.

Still, the “lay of the land” in the late 2000s and early 2010s represents a bit of a changeup from the previous decades of predictability.

During the period beginning the late 2000s when the “advertising recession” hit in an even bigger way than the overall U.S. economic recession, I’ve heard various industry insiders posit that there was more than merely a retrenchment happening due to overall economic conditions.

Beyond that, it was suggested that a migration was happening away from traditional advertising methods to more measurable ones.

Now we have more than just hunches to go on — and the results appear to be aligning with those suspicions.

The new evidence comes in the form of statistics released this week and reported on by MediaPost.

According to an analysis of ad spending trends published by Sanford Bernstein Research and Magna Global, for the first time in modern history U.S. advertising industry revenues have dropped below 1% of total U.S. Gross Domestic Product.

During the period 1999 to 2010, total advertising averaged 1.25% of GDP, but since then the percentage has stagnated or fallen. The 2014 total advertising estimate of $165 billion is 0.95% of GDP.  (The Bernstein/Magna research covers U.S. advertising revenues up through the year 2014.)

tbThe decline in advertising’s share of GDP is primarily due to the diminishing importance of two key traditional media categories: broadcast TV and cable TV.

Broadcast TV advertising’s annual revenue growth averaged around 3% per year between 1990 and 2010.  Since 2011, it’s been flat.

Cable TV has done somewhat better – but even there what had been around 12% growth per year has slowed to just a ~3% annual increase.

With such big baseline numbers for broadcast and cable TV, the behavior of these two broadcast categories have been key drivers of the advertising sector’s overall performance.

But we mustn’t forget another category that’s been performing pretty miserably of late: newspaper advertising.  It’s experienced a ~10% decline on a compound annual basis from 2010 to 2014.

That decline is even steeper than earlier projections had suggested.

Todd Juenger, a vice president and senior analyst at Sanford Bernstein, made a key takeaway observation about the newly published figures, noting:

“Our original piece theorized [that] advertising would recover to prior levels. Instead, it has remained deflated, suggesting the perhaps the Internet really has enabled marketers to eliminate waste.”

He’s right, of course.

Tom Goodwin Sounds Off: Five Big Myths about Advertising Today

Tom Goodwin
Tom Goodwin

It’s so common to hear weighty pronouncements about the changing world of advertising and how the ground is shifting under the discipline.

It seems that we get one of these “new horizons” commentaries about every other week or so.

That’s why it’s refreshing to hear a few countervailing voices among the breathless babble. These are the voices of reason that move past the hyperbole and provide some sober grounding.

One such person is former advertising industry exec Jeremy Bullmore. His recent commentary on the “big data” craze is a good case in point — and well-worth reading.

Another industry specialist whose comments are always worth noting is Tom Goodwin, head of Tomorrow Innovation, a digital marketing consultancy. He’s identified five big myths about today’s advertising environment which need “calling out,” as he puts it.

What are Goodwin’s myths? They’re shown below, along with Goodwin’s “quasi-contrarian” views about them.

“TV is dead.

Nope. More people are watching television than ever before — and that’s looking at just the mature USA and UK markets.  Goodwin contends that TV advertising has never been more valuable — and most commercials are viewed rather than skipped over.  But they’re viewed on many kinds of devices, of course.

Goodwin’s take: “TV is here to stay … [but] the notion of ‘television’ generates false boundaries to what’s possible with video advertising when [people] consume video in so many new ways.”

“Consumers want conversations with brands.” 

Ignore ButtonNo they don’t, Goodwin contends: “The conversations I most often see are those of disgruntled customers, given the microphone to complain that Twitter provides. It strikes me overwhelmingly, with remarkably few exceptions, that for most brands, people want an outcome or resolution or perhaps information — and not a conversation.”

“Brands must create good content.” 

Goodwin acknowledges that content delivered by brands needs to be inherently valuable. But it’s more complicated than just that:  “Branded content is not meritocratic — you can’t say any one piece of content is ‘better’ than another. Perhaps the best real test of content is when it’s served, how, and who it reaches and the value it provides.”

“Advertising is about storytelling.”

Goodwin contends that advertising people are buying their own hype with this whopper. “Let’s not delude ourselves that advertising is not about selling stuff,” he emphasizes.

“Advertising dollars should correlate with consumers’ time spent with media.”

Goodwin claims that advertising industry players feel a compulsion to “be where the people are,” under the assumption that people will engage with advertising in similar ways whether they’re online or offline, on a mobile device or a desktop, and so on.

Because of this thinking, media spend projections looking into the future “bear no resemblance” to what’s working or not working — or how it’s even possible to spend that much money advertising in the channels like mobile.

How have these myths of Goodwin’s taken hold in the first place? Is it because talking about them seems so much more interesting and important than contending that advertising is continuing on a more familiar trajectory?

Goodwin thinks this may be part of it. Certainly, he acknowledges that times are changing dramatically in advertising — as they have been for some time.  But he makes a plea for more wisdom and nuance:

“While nobody gets famous (or a promotion) saying things are complex or largely unchanged … it’s closer to the truth.”

Personally, having spent a quarter century years in the marketing communications field, I feel that Tom Goodwin has raised some very interesting and valid points.

Where do you come down on them?  Do you agree or disagree with the five “myths” Goodwin has identified in modern advertising?  Leave a comment and share your thoughts for the benefit of other readers.