Our Thinking

The Hyperfocus
on Helicopter Advertising
and the Need for Revenue Marketing

Samuel Johnson in 1759:

“Advertisements are now so numerous that they are very negligently perused, and it is therefore become necessary to gain attention by magnificence of promises, and by eloquence sometimes sublime and sometimes pathetic.”

We all see many ads every day. Expert estimates vary, and as this “study of studies” from Hill Holliday shows, there is little consensus on the exact number of daily ads seen by the average person.

But it is widely accepted that this number is greater than a few hundred - perhaps more than a few thousand. The statistic most frequently cited is 5,000 ads per day. This stems from a variety of sources, some with their roots in the 1970s and 80s, and some as recent as a decade ago.

What do our brains do with all these mini-pitches? Over recent years, psychologists have repeatedly demonstrated that the human brain doesn’t really multitask. Advertisers are truly asking customers to rapidly divert attention for a brief moment. Studies are beginning to analyze correlations between ADD and our culture of highly distractible technology use (i.e. Attention Deficit Trait, or ADT). The symptoms of ADT are very similar to ADD.

Consumers are working to find fixes for this themselves: 63% of US millennials have ad blockers installed. That is a staggering number.

Logically, advertising bombardment presents a problem: cutting through the clutter is difficult, even if targeting is perfect and customers are engaged at multiple touchpoints.

But as the head of Yankelovich Partners, the organization often credited with the “5,000” number based on a 2004 study, said: the problem is evident in the lack of marketing effectiveness.

“You don’t even have to use ad exposure numbers. You can just use marketing productivity estimates. Either way, you see the problem.”

There is a disconnect, however, between the buzz and the brutal reality.

The Brand-Vendor Divide

Judging by top-ranking articles on major marketing and advertising trends, the top-of-mind idea for marketers should be something like this:

Track individuals everywhere they go to deliver relevant ads and content at every stage of the customer journey.

This is the essence of what we call Helicopter Advertising. “Do you want a cookie? No, not that kind? How about something to drink? No? Here’s a free trial of something to drink!”

For the past decade the adtech industry has promoted the marketing equivalent of helicopter parenting. Hover over your customers at all times. Know what they are thinking, feeling and doing. Anticipate their every need. Constantly offer them things to purchase or do.

The problem is that customers have tens of thousands of “parents” all hovering over them and collectively bombarding them with messages, offers, incentives, and promotions.

As lovely as the initial premise sounds, any marketer will tell you that tracking individuals to serve them relevant content is very difficult to accomplish. We’ve spoken with some of the world’s largest brands and they have used words like “painful” and “impossible” - technologically. And technologically speaking, it makes sense: device changes, expired cookies, cache clearing, ad blocking = how many ways can I break your marketing strategy?

And that doesn’t even include the difficulty of tracking an individual everywhere and harmonizing that information across all marketing systems. We have all seen what happens when this goes wrong: ads for products we already purchased, ads for products we don’t need, or even brands knowing a girl is pregnant before her parents do.

Then comes the next question:

If individual targeting is difficult (i.e. expensive), is it worth it?

This is question must be answered by case studies, by demonstrated efficacy, by real examples where brands invested and saw tangible, attributable returns. And here’s where it gets interesting:

P&G to Scale Back on Targeted Facebook Ads

“Procter & Gamble Co., the biggest advertising spender in the world, will move away from ads on Facebook that target specific consumers, concluding that the practice has limited effectiveness… ‘We targeted too much, and we went too narrow,’ [Marc Pritchard, P&G’s chief marketing officer] said in an interview, ‘and now we’re looking at: What is the best way to get the most reach but also the right precision?’”

MIT: Personalized Ads Don’t Always Work

“Contrary to popular practice, personalized ads not only don't drive conversions, but are likely to be ignored, according to the study by MIT Sloan School of Management Prof. Catherine Tucker and London Business School Prof. Anja Lambrecht.”

Targeted Advertising Considered Harmful

“The Wall Street Journal’s What They Know series started to increase awareness of ad targeting, and other news sites reported on it as well. Jason Kint writes, ‘Online advertising is trusted less than any other form of advertising. When we see examples like the St. Louis Post Dispatch’s approach to online advertising, we shouldn’t be wondering why consumers are flocking to ad blockers in droves.’”

And one more for good measure:

“Brands still struggling to deliver on the promise of one-to-one advertising, writes the CEO of Flite.”

Real-world data on long-term marketing effectiveness calls into question the hype around helicopter advertising.

You may be writing adtech checks your customers won't cash. Or, better yet, you may be writing marketing checks with little support from behavioral psychology.

So what then? Turn off all the DMPs, programmatic, CRMs, MAPs, TMS, attribution, CDPs, pixels, cookies and supercookies? Of course not; we don’t intend to be canaries. New innovations, like cookie-free IP targeting or 1-to-1 physical mailers, offer some measure of promise. And tactically speaking, personalization and targeted marketing still have a meaningful role to play.

But helicopter advertising seems to have consumed the marketing mindspace, despite the fact that is one tactic in a vast toolbelt of possible tactics.

Perhaps the wisdom lies in not putting all your eggs in one basket - especially if that basket leaks data.

More important than the validity of any single tactic is ensuring your strategies are actually driving revenue (as well as awareness and brand equity).

This is why Revenue Marketing is taking over:

Marketers can now see marketing’s comprehensive impact on revenue - and, yes, this is what we do. Once this is built, then it’s time for the diligent testing of cool ideas, like personalization, and measuring each initiative for its contribution to revenue.

After all,

“Every line is the perfect length if you don't measure it.” - Marty Rubin

Revenue Marketing brings the clarity marketing leaders need in order to make better decisions and truly impact growing revenue.