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Is traditional marketing dead?

Recently, I attended a university campus for a work event and spent the day surrounded by young people, more than a decade my junior who are now elbow deep in their own communication degrees. And though it sounds like such a cliché, based on the conversations I heard, it seems that marcomms degrees – and indeed practice – has changed a lot since I was at uni. Perhaps the most interesting conversation I heard (leaned in and eavesdropped on) was one between two young students who were debating the idea that traditional marketing is dead, a waste of time – not worth even thinking about. It got me wondering, is traditional something I should eradicate from my strategy?

What do we mean by traditional marketing?

Traditional marketing refers to that deeply historic practice of promoting your good, service or cause pre the days of the world wide web. It means undertaking such strange and exotic practices as advertising in the newspaper, throwing money at a billboard, recording a compelling radio advertisement, or booking a 30 second slot on the telly. It was tactics like direct mailers, trade shows and old-school PR.

Digital marketing: where are we now?

Well, if I go by the conversations of the two under-20’s on main campus, it would seem that we are now so firmly entrenched in social advertising, potential viral videos and memes, pay-per-clicks and content marketing, that a TV ad no longer has any relevance.

But all is not as it appears, and despite their years’ of wisdom, the two may have been getting caught up in what they think is more cool, as opposed to what is really happening. Looking at Publicis-owned ZenithOptimedia's regularly published projections for future ad spend by channel – the predictions show traditional media is still alive and well – if only for the moment. While the ad industry clearly is changing, spend on telly is still looming over many digital channels and even radio continues to demand its fair share of dollars. While there is decline, it is s-l-o-w. Now, whether this snail pace is because these channels are still largely effective, or because we marketers are not early adapters and fear the change, is a separate issue, but for the moment, traditional channels should still be on your hot list.

The perks of digital marketing

While the students may have been a bit off track with their thinking – or they are just a bit before their time – one thing that is true is that digital is much more accessible to all advertisers than traditional options. Having experience in not-for-profit and SME, I know marketing budgets can be tight, and when that’s the case, you stretch every dollar as far as you can.

When it comes to traditional channels, what’s really outdated is the cost. With a telly ad campaign costing thousands or hundreds of thousands, decent newspaper pages and sizes a little on the exy side and even radio drawing a pretty significant dollar figure when you consider production and voice hire, traditional channels just aren’t an option for everyone. In contrast, often at less than a dollar per actual engaged click (or less in some cases), a social media campaign that can be targeted tightly by demographics, or a google retargeting campaign seems like a much better option.

The other big perk is the measurability of digital – and this is a realm that marketers have never been in before. Being able to measure exactly how many people responded to your campaign really reinvents ROI and takes data and subsequent strategy to a whole new level.

Can traditional channels stay relevant?

Measurement for traditional channels is likely always going to be slightly uncertain – especially when it comes to more concrete things like conversion as opposed to just reach or frequency – so traditional does lose out a little to digital. And maybe, with the likes of subscription web-based entertainment channels like ‘Netflix’ , and streaming radio, traditional may well be on the way out. But not if M&C Saatchi has anything to do with it.

Perhaps the big chance for traditional is to be true to its essence, but to also start to evolve. In 2016, M&C Saatchi gave a new edge to good old billboards, by upping the intelligence level. Billboards fit with cameras now identify certain car makes, and tailor a message to drivers, based on the vehicle model! It’s a far cry from a static billboard – though albeit there have been some really amazing old-school billboards – and potentially a step that will enable some traditional channels to remain relevant.

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