Is the Editorial Headline the Future of Advertising?

We all know by now that traditional advertising is in the midst of a change equivalent to the hundred-year flood. In fact, this kind of change has not happened for 100 years. Since we are in the business of business-to-business marketing, we concentrate on that world in most of these postings. For just this once, let’s venture into the world of consumer advertising—something we can all relate to.

Most of us have spent much of our TV-watching lives trying to avoid advertising. Some of us have it down to a science—channel surfing when the ads interrupt our favorite show only to return at just the right time as the show returns. We have the one-minute surf, the two-minute surf and the 3-minute surf (the long ones on the half hour).

With marketers spending so much money on those ads, why is our instinct to avoid them at all costs? The answer is that we want to choose when and where we want to learn about that new car or that new drug (with all of the horrible side effects) that we should ask our doctor about. We don’t want it washing over us like a tsunami of useless information. When TiVO was introduced, ad agency people got really worried. This device could skip commercials. I never got one but then my cable company offered me a DVR, which is almost as good. True, it won’t skip commercials but I sure can FF past them. Of course, there is now research from desperate marketers that says that even when you FF past those commercials, they are still making an impact on you. I suppose that is true in the same way that a billboard would make an impact on you if you were driving at NASCAR speeds down a city street. So where will this all end?

We could end up right where we started. Soap operas are called soap operas because, in the beginning, the show was actually paid for and sponsored by the soap companies. There were no commercial interruptions. The viewer was simply told at the beginning of the show that the show was “brought to you by ABC Soap Company”. That was it. The approach is similar to what PBS does today and you’ll notice that non-commercial PBS has longer and longer intros—but I digress.

We still have the dilemma that marketers want to tell people about their products so they can sell them and consumers want to learn about new products so they might consider purchasing them—but how do consumers want to learn about products? That is the question.

Let’s take a recent product introduction—the Apple iPad. So far, no commercials but everyone seems to know about it. How has this happened? It’s a combination of Apple’s superior PR machine being able to get virtually every media outlet (broadcast, print and online) to do their work for them by talking about and reviewing their new product. But how did most people initially hear about it? Probably through a headline of an article on one of their myriad online news sites. Most people probably did not click on and read the article unless they were really interested but that headline still made an impression. So when that person was cornered at the water cooler the next morning and asked whether they heard about that new Apple iPad, they could answer, “yeah, I read something about it.” In many cases, that something was simply the headline to an article titled  “Apple Rolls Out iPad But Where Will It Fit?”

Think of your own online behavior. I’ll bet you learn a lot about what is going on in the world just by reading headlines—no different than if you glanced at the headlines in your local newspaper. Then, when something really grabs your attention, you click and read. With marketing so prevalent in today’s society, many of the headlines in the “news” are product driven.

It’s a good day to be a PR mogul. It’s a good day to write a good headline.

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