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  • Bob Hoffman


In 1996, bestselling author Seth Godin had this to say to Fast Company... “I guarantee you that by the year 2000, Internet banner ads will be gone.” Oops.

Let’s be fair to Seth. He’s a smart guy and he has been right about a lot of things. But the problem with the above statement, like so many aspects of marketing these days, is that it is rooted in ideology.

Seth’s ideology was “permission marketing.” He believed that the “interruption model” of traditional advertising was on the way out, and that in order to communicate effectively with consumers, marketers would need their “permission.”

Like much of new age marketing philosophy, it sounded lovely. The problem is that the world isn't lovely. Having operating principles is fine, but being ideologically committed to a “big idea” often ends in a train wreck.

Ideology is often the downfall of pundits, historians and marketers. Philip Tetlock is an author and professor at the University of California-Berkeley. He’s the winner of lots of impressive awards — and an expert on experts. According to Tetlock, experts who are most often wrong are those who have an ideological commitment to a “big idea.”

“They tended to have one big, beautiful idea that they loved to stretch, sometimes to the breaking point. They tended to be articulate and very persuasive as to why their idea explained everything. The media often love (them.)”

People attached to ideologies often are not able to adapt their “big, beautiful idea” to the constant surprises of the real world. Instead, they re-interpret the real world to fit their big, beautiful idea. In fact, what has happened is that contrary to permission model theory, the interruption model has become infuriatingly pervasive on the web.

Every news, entertainment, and social media site is packed with ads that drive us all crazy. Meanwhile, permission marketing mainly allows us to preach to the converted. It may be beneficial for popular, high interest products and categories. But for the average business - a maker of vacuum cleaner bags or pencils or mufflers - it offers little in the way of leverage.

In the article quoted above, Godin also went on to say... “Marketing is a contest for people’s attention.” He is certainly right about that. However, the grand visions and big, beautiful new ideas about marketing that were supposed to help us gain people’s attention in new ways, have proven disappointingly hollow.

The result is that banner advertising — that horrible, corrupt, and maligned old thing — not only is not “gone,” it is metastasizing. We now call it "display advertising" and most of us wish it had disappeared in 2000, as Seth promised. But one of the lessons about marketing

is that practicality consistently outperforms ideology.

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