Siddhartha Mukherjee: What if Advertising did not exist?!

27 Jul,2017

By Siddhartha Mukherjee


“What ifs” are normally unconventional…sometimes even unorthodox. I thought of one such “What if” scenario – What if our marketers, ready to supply their goods and services, did not use conventional advertising at all to generate demand. All they had with them was “Earned/News/Editorial”.


Historically (and pre), religions, beliefs, gods, idols, cultures and many other such realities have successfully managed to center themselves into our lives. If you come to think of it, communications – creative and sustained – has played a very important role in achieving this success. Go back thousands of years, there was nothing called “advertising”. There was nothing called paid, earned or owned media. All that the Think Tanks then used to communicate their concepts was plain and direct communications. As mediums, they used pamphlets, mass addresses, word of mouths, road shows and other such mechanisms. Despite no backing of “technology” or “media spends”, all these aspects not only achieved wonderful launch but also amazing acceptance (sustenance) by the respective intended target audiences.


This brings me back to my unorthodox “What If” question?Cut to the 21st century, imagine if corporate and product marketers were to use only earned media tools and nothing else.


Some quick thoughts:

1. Media Owners would be under Control: The explosion in the list of media owners (especially Print and TV) to grab a pie of the conventional advertising (Display or TVCs) moolah would not be there. Media titles would have been much lesser. It would be created by those who would have genuinely believed in quality and relevant content. The business model of media owners would have largely been subscription based.

2. In-Content Brand Placements would be better used: Editorial/Programming teams would have made for better thinkers and users of in-programme brand placements.

3. Rationale would prevail in Marketing Budgets and P/Ls: The budgets that go behind conventional advertising remain to border around being bizarre. Spending a fraction of that on well thought overall IMC (Integrated Marketing Communications) or unconventional communications would create far more effective ROOs or ROIs.

4. PR Industry would be THE ONE: There would be no celebrities from the advertising world. There would be those celebrities who would be known for building a brand, it’srecall and reputation through unconventional forms of brand communications. PR agency and corporate communications would have different, much higher and wider KRAs and KPIs. Clubs or industry bodies would have looked and thought differently.

5. Talent Pool would have been of Higher Quality: A communications professional would have to be IMC (Integrated Brand Communications) specialist and not just a creative professional, media planner, copywriter, media relations specialist, event management, etc. B-schools would have to rethink their course curriculum.

6. Awards would have been holistic: The plethora of awards platforms would not be there. Select, realistic and holistic awards would have got created.

7. Brand Health Studies would look different: Advertising industry’s biggest support that it (kind of) works is because of various brand health studies (like TOM, Disposition, etc.) that marketers/advertisers commission to find out the efficacy of the ad campaign. This was proactively and scientifically created to suit the needs of the advertising industry. In the absence of conventional advertising, brand health studies would have been conducted in a different way.

8. Editors would be been the sole gatekeepers of SPACE: Space buying and selling would not have existed. Editors would have been the sole decision makers or gatekeepers on which brand entity to write on, discuss or showcase and in what editorial form.


Am sure there can be a longer list. However, to envisage a situation where marketers use everything but conventional advertising is an interesting thought.It opens immense opportunities and forces us to rethink on the brand building mechanisms we have adopted so far.


With the way conventional advertising is progressing, it won’t be long when unconventional communications forms, including earned media will see the real dawn!


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