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Advertising in 2020: From Traditional to Outlandish

Some companies will try almost anything to get your attention in order to sell you their product. They take it far beyond traditional advertising methods, even offering what seem to be outlandish and borderline absurd offers. I’m sure you have seen the stories where people agree to get a tattoo of a particular company’s logo in exchange for money. Several years ago, I remember hearing about a Salt Lake City woman named Karolyne Smith  that auctioned off her forehead as advertising space and received $10,000 from  Then a few years after that story hit the headlines, a couple accepted $15,000 to name their new baby boy – you guessed it – It was part of a campaign conducted by the online casino and reported by NPR and other media outlets. 

Some companies rely on the risk takers of the world to agree to advertisements like these. /Image Credit:

Not everyone goes for the shock factor when advertising a product. Subtle messages or placements in movies or your favorite shows happen all the time. They are not intrusive but the impact is enough to satisfy the advertiser. Remember the Reese’s Pieces candy that was placed in the blockbuster movie, E.T.? They were used to attract the alien because he loved them? It was supposed to be M&M’s but Mars, Inc. passed on the chance for its product to be in the movie, while Hersey stepped in to take advantage of the opportunity. The popularity of Reese’s Pieces took off after the movie’s premiere, reportedly tripling sales of the product.

The main character in the movie ET tries to befriend the alien with Reese’s Pieces.

Advertisers often take risks to create a buzz around their product. Sometimes it pays off, other times it’s an epic fail. It now seems that advertisers and marketers are turning their attention to methods that are more reliable. At one point print, television and radio were the giants in advertising. But as more advances are made in digital advertising, the more advertisers are investing in that space. Experts estimate that nearly $130 billion was spent on digital advertising last year, according to Vox Media. That’s compared to $109 billion spent on traditional advertising.

And why not invest advertising in digital advertising? The biggest attraction for me is that I can see an immediate return on the investment. Although I’ve worked with my advertising partners to create numerous online campaigns for our business, I’m still amazed at how it works. 

One day a colleague came to my office and we started to chat about how he was planning to propose to his girlfriend. He brought out his phone to show me a picture of this amazing diamond ring that he planned to give her soon. For a couple of minutes, we both gushed over the ring and how beautiful it was and how we couldn’t wait for her to see it. He left my office and returned to his space down the hall. About five minutes later, I picked up my own phone, which I did not touch the entire time he was in my office, and I began to scroll through Facebook. You can just about guess what I saw. There was an advertisement from a jewelry store showing me another amazing diamond ring. I could not believe it!  I hurried down the hall to show my colleague. He could hardly believe it either. I still don’t quite understand how that technology works. Was it a coincidence? I think not.

What is so attractive about digital ads is the ability to directly reach my audience. I’ve tried all methods: direct mail, billboards, radio, television, social media, etc. Digital gets me better results. My customer base is unique and hard to catch. They consist of truck drivers, truck owner-operators and truck fleets. So when I was presented with the opportunity to reach out directly to that group, I took it! I’ve used several features including: 

  • Geo-fencing – Creating a virtual fence around certain addresses so that people who enter the fence are shown our ads
  • Site Retargeting – Targets users who have already visited our website, while they are visiting other sites across the web. 
  • Contextual Targeting – Looks at the category or keywords of the current page a potential customer uses and serves them our ads.
  • Search Retargeting – Enables us to target potential customers with ads based on the searches they perform across the web.
  • Behavioral Targeting – Allows us to target potential customers based on their recent online activity. They are categorized into audience segments.

I see the value in all of these features but my absolute favorite is geo-fencing. Not only am I able to target businesses that I know my customers frequent, like truck stops, I can see how many times someone enters the “virtual fence”. This helps me to eliminate businesses and save impressions for other businesses where my customers may be located. But that’s not all! (Can you tell I get a little excited about these things?) Now I’ve learned that I can take things one step further. I am able to track the number of people who were served our ad and then came to our business after seeing it. I believe that type of information is golden and just the proof I need to show that the ad is working. 

From the perspective of a strategic communication professional, all these available tools and techniques allow us the space we need to determine what’s best for our business or client. There’s not much room for error when you are dealing with traditional media. For example, if you miss the mark by showing what could be considered an offensive ad on television, just get ready to implement your crisis plan. That’s not to say the same thing wouldn’t happen with digital advertising, but with digital advertising, you have the room to make adjustments. If you are closely monitoring your campaign, you are able to immediately see what is working and what is not. The creatives can be swapped out. The target audience can be adjusted. You can even add more to the budget to receive more impressions. We have so much available to us as communication professionals. We should take risks so that we can reap the benefits of a great opportunity. Tom Soderstrom, chief technology and innovation officer at Jet Propulsion Laboratory said it best, “When you take risks and they work out, they lead to new capabilities you never saw before.”  


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