Does Media Matter? Does Advertising Still Work?
I did not want Donald Trump to be President. Actually I still don’t, but hopefully I and the other half of the country will get over it and back to some form of normality. But that is another story and not why I’m writing this column. My politics are mine, and yours are, well, yours. I want to try to grapple with something I don’t yet understand. Here I am referencing the power and effectiveness of the media.
For the record, I have been elected to office twice in a small town with a relatively small budget of a few million dollars. I bring this up to suggest that I understand local politics and local government. Perhaps meaningful to this discussion, both times I did not get the local paper’s endorsement. I was also the vice-chair of the county Democratic committee for two elected terms, so I also got to experience county-wide politics and policies.
My question, and something worth reviewing given the bitter political race, is does media matter? Does advertising matter? Is there any weight and effect in a political or celebrity endorsement?
We have just experienced a race where I would have to say that none of it mattered in the least. I would go further to say that they might have had the reverse effect. The people who voted for Donald Trump must have seen and heard all the ads, read the multitude of endorsements in the papers, and observed celebrity after celebrity heaping praise on candidate Hillary. All that, it seems to me, manifested an opposite reaction from the intended one.
What happened? Maybe they were bad ads. Maybe they were the wrong celebrities. Maybe in the age of social media an endorsement from a mainstream newspaper is not near as powerful as a tweet?
To be fair not all mainstream media was ineffective. We all know that the Fox News Network is the leader in the TV news field. There is also the Rush Radio empire. And let’s not forget Breitbart’s Alt-Right News Network. So, collectively maybe their success offsets my question about whether or not media and advertising still work?
The winner in this case spent a small fraction in paid advertising compared to the loser. I ask again was the problem bad ads, or have we reached a moment in time when ads no longer persuade?
That brings me to big data. I have been railing for years that with the advent of big data collection we don’t know yet how to understand and use it. I have mostly focused on digital advertising and the erroneous conclusions our industry has drawn from the various data sets. As a still developing digital media industry, we aren’t yet savvy enough to comprehend and analyze the “crumbs” before us.
In this election we now know that most of the predictive digital data that was collected ad nauseum was flawed and led to incorrect assumptions. Was it bad data or bad data analysts or both?
So the question I throw out to this august group of media professionals is simply this: Have the media rules, if there ever were any, changed? Does advertising work? Does the media have power to move a political dialog? I think it once did, but now I begin to the think emperor has lost his clothes and his marbles. Have all our robust powers of persuasion been proven to be impotent, at least in politics, and surely in this election? What do you think?
Bob Sacks (aka BoSacks) is a printing/publishing industry consultant and president of The Precision Media Group (BoSacks.com). He is also the co-founder of the research company Media-Ideas (Media-Ideas.net), and publisher and editor of a daily international e-newsletter, Heard on the Web. Sacks has held posts as director of manufacturing and distribution, senior sales manager (paper), chief of operations, pressman, circulator and almost every other job this industry has to offer.