Does 'The End of Advertising' Matter to Higher Ed?

Has a university ever advertised during the Super Bowl?

January 30, 2019

The End of Advertising: Why It Had to Die, and the Creative Resurrection to Come by Andrew Essex

Published in June of 2017.

This Sunday most of us will park ourselves in front of a TV to watch the Super Bowl. For many of us, this will be the only time of the year when we sit through the advertising. At $5.3 million for each thirty-second spot, we can at least hope that the commercials will not suck.

Other than the Super Bowl, when do you encounter advertising? How has your relationship with advertising changed over your life? And does anything related to the future of advertising matter to higher education?

If you can’t guess from the title of Andrew Essex’s book, he believes that we are living through the beginning of the end of traditional advertising.  Essex is the former CEO of the advertising agency Droga5.  He describes his job as the Roger Sterling of Mad Men, "minus the three-martini lunches.”

For Essex, the advance of technologies such as ad blockers and DVR’s and the ascension of content subscription ad-free platforms such as Netflix/HBO/Showtime/Amazon Prime, are bound to kill the traditional advertising model. People will no longer give their attention to content that they did not ask to see, and that interrupt their content consumption experience.

This is true for my content diet. Nowadays, I never watch anything that requires that I pay for the experience with my attention.  I’ll watch Netflix or Amazon Prime (on my phone), and recorded sports on my TV (fast-forwarding through the commercials).

What about web and mobile advertising?  Although I don’t ad blocking software, I’m wondering if I should.  Do you?

I can’t remember the last time I went on Facebook.  So I’m not looking at Facebook ads.  Mostly staying off social media platforms - beyond a bit of Twitter here and there - is also an excellent way to avoid ads.

For Essex, the future of advertising can be found in Citi Bike.  This NYC bike sharing program underwritten by Citigroup includes 12,000 bikes and over 700 stations.  Citigroup builds awareness and goodwill through the bikes that carry their branding, and residents and visitors to NYC enjoy an affordable and convenient bike rental option.

How does the end of traditional advertising matter to higher ed?

The End of Advertising is a book about advertising, not marketing.  As I understand the difference between the two, marketing encompasses the full communications strategy.  It includes everything from our campuses to our brochures to our websites.

Advertising consists of the pieces within the marketing umbrella.  Where marketing is about building and maintaining the brand, advertising is about getting people to do something.  Marketing is a conversation, while advertising is a call to action.  Is that sort of right?

Does anyone have any data about where the higher ed advertising spend goes? How much is spent on digital?  And which platforms?  How much is spent on direct outreach?  On sending brochures or e-mail?  What other sorts of advertising to universities engage?  Has a non-profit college ever purchased a Super Bowl ad?

The advertising question for colleges and universities is the same question that everyone trying to sell something is asking - does advertising work?

To what extent does advertising drive applications and enrollments?

I’m curious about how the communications efforts of universities compare to those of companies.  Do we put more of a focus on earned media (free media), such as getting mentioned in news stories, as compared to for-profit companies?

Besides advertising in the back of the Economist, and sometimes sponsoring NPR shows, how do universities use various advertising platforms to drive specific behaviors?  And what are those behaviors that schools want to see?  Is it visiting the university website, signing up for a non-credit online program, or applying for admission?

The End of Advertising is a fun read for anyone outside the industry.  Far from being depressed about the demise of newspapers and the challenges of web-based journalism, we can count it as a victory that an advertising model built on interruption is coming to an end.  (Except in professional sports).  Of course, the end of advertising and the end of journalism are closely intertwined, so there is that.

The book certainly made me more curious about the world of advertising.  It is a good (and much briefer) companion to Ken Auletta’s Frenemies: The Epic Disruption of the Ad Business (And Everything Else). 

What The End of Advertising does not do is help us understand how the disruptions of the advertising-supported model will impact the industries that either depends on ad dollars to survive or use ads to drive demand.

Do you know of any books (or other content) that does a deep dive into the world of higher ed advertising?

What are you reading?


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