The Biggest Lies in Digital Marketing (Denmark)

The Biggest Lies in Digital Marketing (Denmark)

samuel scott talk denmark

Note: This is the prepared text of a keynote talk that I gave today at Digital Copenhagen in Denmark.

Thank you for the introduction. This is my first time in Denmark, so it’s great to be here and see the genius country that invented Lego and gave us Mads Mikkelsen. (Did I say that correctly?) So far, you have all heard some great tips today on what to do in digital marketing from a variety of experts, including my friends from a Sydney digital marketing agency. Well, it’s time for something completely different. I’m going to discuss what not to do and what not to believe.

Please excuse the hard-boiled exterior that I still have as a journalist who later went into marketing. For people who are always selling something and also supposed to be cynics, many marketers are surprisingly susceptible to believing bad data and people with conflicts of interest. In other words, many of us are too susceptible to bullshit. I used to be a journalist. Then, I went into marketing. Now, I cover the marketing industry as a columnist for The Drum and a global keynote speaker.

I only have 30 minutes or so to go through just a small number of the falsehoods that a lot of you probably believe, so let’s dive right in.

Note: This talk is rated 15+ in Denmark but only PG-13 in America. (Americans are much more violent.) Parental guidance is suggested because there will be some strong language.


If the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he did not exist, then the greatest trick that the sellers of certain marketing software have pulled for the last decade was convincing marketers that advertising is dead.

SLIDE 3 – Advertising is Dead

For years, so-called experts proclaimed the death of advertising and so-called ‘outbound marketing’. In 2004, Jim Nail of Forrester Research said we’re seeing “the end of the era of mass marketing”.


In 2009, Bob Garfield of Ad Age wrote that “the post-advertising age is underway”.


For years, we all saw countless articles and pundits saying that advertising is dead or proclaiming that it soon will be. And you know what they were? Completely and utterly wrong.


Yes, print advertising has declined and a few other forms have remained level. But TV advertising has increased – more on that later – and digital advertising has skyrocketed. When you look at total ad spend across all channels, you see that advertising is very much alive. But tell me again that advertising is dead.

By now, in 2017, I hope that everyone here already knows that advertising is far from dead. It’s not even mostly dead. So, why am I introducing this talk with this lie? Because we are hearing similar bullshit today – but on other topics.

For 10 years, companies selling marketing software and people with agendas spread the lie that advertising was dead to sell more software and benefit themselves – even though it was clear to anyone paying attention that they were wrong. And no one ever calls them out even though anyone selling widgets is always going to say that everything that is not a widget is bad.

In 2011, the Hubspot blog published a post that stated: “We honestly believe that outbound marketing is dead.” No, you do not. You honestly believe in spreading the lie that so-called ‘outbound marketing’ is dead because you sell software that you brand as the alternative.

I mean, seriously – could you be any less subtle?

I see many similar lies being spread today, so I use my talks as a keynote marketing speaker around the world and my regular column in The Drum to counter them because I care about the work that we do.

Before I worked in marketing, I was a journalist and newspaper editor in my first career. But I still apply the same critical and objective analysis that I used in journalism when I discuss the marketing industry today.

So, let’s go on to the other lies that are continually repeated today.

SLIDE 7 — Content Marketing is the Only Marketing Left

“Content marketing is the only marketing left.” That was said in 2008 by a Seth Godin who must have never left his house that year. I see hundreds, if not thousands, of ads every single day — and I am sure that everyone else here does as well.

“Content marketing is the only marketing left.” Every person I know in advertising would beg to differ. Every person I know in PR would beg to differ. Every person I know who works in direct marketing would beg to differ. Seth Godin was wrong.


First, we see the boring, generic word “content” being used to refer to anything and everything. Publicity stunts are “content marketing.”


Both journalism and product ads are “content.”


Writing blog spam is “content marketing.”


On the left, you have a classic direct response advertisement that was made by David Ogilvy. Headline, informative text and graphics, and a call to action. On the right, you have the standard format of a blog post. Headline, informative text and graphics, and a call to action. It’s the same, exact thing.

Why is it that when we put this in a newspaper, we’re doing ‘direct response advertising’ but if we put this on a company blog, we’re doing ‘content marketing’?

The channel and the medium do not determine the creative. The marketing practice does not change simply because the medium changes.


Here’s my favorite. It’s a line from some Jedi or guru or whatever on Medium. “Content is anything and everything that we can read, see, hear, watch, or experience live.”


Well, that’s fucking useless. “Content” as a word just means whatever you put inside something.

Definitions exist for a reason. The marketing industry has precise terminologies for a reason. If a word means everything, it means nothing specific, interesting, or useful.

In the end, content marketing is just a new name for marketing communications. If you are doing marcom, it is already assumed that you are creating and distributing marketing collateral of some type. To deem it as “content marketing” is silly and redundant.


Almost every example of ‘content marketing’ that I see is just an example of some type of traditional marketing communications.

In 1971, Coca-Cola put out the famous ‘I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke’ ad on TV.


In 2015, Coca-Cola redid the spot and put it online. It’s the exact same thing. So why is it that when we put something like this on TV, it’s called ‘advertising’, but when we put it on the internet, it’s called ‘content marketing’ or ‘social media marketing’? Why are digital marketers so afraid of using the word ‘advertising’ when we create ads? Oh, yeah – it’s because advertising is supposed to be dead.


For those who have never studied traditional product marketing, we have always had the four Ps of product, price, place and promotion. Under promotion, you have the marketing promotion mix of advertising, direct marketing, public relations, sales promotion, personal selling and, as I argue today, SEO.


Marketing communications is simply the formation of an idea, the insertion of that idea into a piece of marketing collateral or content, and the transmission of that collateral over a channel to an audience. That process occurs within one of the frameworks of the promotion mix. Same as it ever was. It’s all that content marketing is – we don’t need a new term that was conjured up by someone to sell ‘content marketing guides’ and tickets to conferences like the Content Marketing Institute.

I have seen publicity stunts, direct response campaigns, brand advertisements and more all deemed to be ‘content marketing’. And again, if a word means everything, it means nothing precise or useful because different types of marketing collateral and campaigns have specific best practices and times when to use and not to use them.

And at the worst, it’s just an excuse to flood the internet with useless crap as a way to get as traffic back to a website through any means necessary. Even if it hurts the brand in the long term.

SLIDE 18 — TV is Dead

It’s the first rule in propaganda: if you want people to believe a lie, then just repeat it over and over again. For some 15 years, marketers have been subjected to constant reports that commercial TV will soon ‘die’.

One of the biggest falsehoods in the marketing echo chamber is that television is ‘dead’ – and that lie is usually spread by companies with something to gain or by people who do not bother to research what the good data actually says. People keep repeating the propaganda over and over again.


Here is the Nielsen data specifically from its most recent Total Audience Report in the United States. The light purple on the left is live TV. The light blue in the center is live AM/FM radio. On average, people spend the majority of media time each day watching live television and listening to AM/FM radio.


According to comScore in the US, live TV represents 84% of total TV viewing time.


Only 15% of households are “streaming only.” Most who use streaming services do so as a supplement to traditional TV and not as a replacement.


For every hour that is viewed on streaming services, people watch more than five hours of live television.


Live TV is still dominant, even among those who stream the most.


40% of video viewed each day, the part in red, is live TV. A combined 57% of video is live TV, playback TV, or broadcaster VOD.

Slide 25

● 79% of video advertising is viewed on live TV.

Slide 26

● Thinkbox in the UK also found that TV viewing has remained level despite the rise of social media, mobile and streaming over the past decade. There has been a decline of only four minutes of television watching per day since 2006.


When Amazon broadcasted its first American football game, the total average audience was 15 million people. 97% watched on live TV. Only 2% watched on Amazon.

Earlier this year, ShareThis chief executive Kurt Abrahamson wrote a column in Adweek claiming that “Social Media is the New Television.” Now, can you really read that with a straight face?


Here is some Denmark data. The blue line is traditional TV use by age. The purple line is streaming by age. Streaming is more common only among people between the ages of 15 and 30. Everyone else, younger and older, watches traditional TV.


It wouldn’t be a marketing presentation without talking about millennials, so here we go. The oldest millennials are now in the early to mid-30s. In the UK, millennials are actually watching more TV as they get older and have children.

Another reason for the myth that TV is dying is the assumption that some current trend will always continue in a straight line. But just like in finance, past media performance does not guarantee future results. We have assumed that just because millennials supposedly watched less TV while they were younger that they must still watch less TV now. But that’s not the case. People change media consumption habits as their lives change.

I’ve got a theory. Based on what I have seen in the online marketing industry, I will make an informed guess that the average digital marketer is under the age of 35, does not have children, works and probably lives in a city, has a university or graduate degree, goes out with friends multiple nights every week, has an easy commute and does not own a car, spends hours on Twitter, brags about not having a television, and binges Orange is the New Black on Netflix.

How’d I do?

But many of the people who purchase our products are in their forties and fifties and have several children. They never went to university. They spend an hour each way commuting to and from suburbia to a menial, low-tech job at which they are overworked and underpaid. They come home to a dinner of leftovers because the spouse wanted to save money and pay some overdue bills. They have disagreeable teenagers who just want to go out and do who-knows-what with who-knows-who. They have tweeted maybe once or twice at most.

And you know what? They are tired. After they return from work and eat the reheated casserole from yesterday, they just want to relax, sit on the couch, and drink some beer or wine. They don’t want to search for something to watch on Netflix. They want to turn off their brains, click a remote control, and be entertained by that large box in the living room until they fall asleep. Same as it ever was. And as millennials are getting older, they are doing the same.

SLIDE 30 – Social Media

The next lie. For the last 10 years, countless gurus and experts have told us that people want to have relationships with brands on social media. That brands should act like real people and ‘engage’. And all of these gurus and experts told us these things without ever offering any proof or evidence that what they were saying was true.

I’ve got an experiment for you. Go up to your friends – normal people, not anyone who works in marketing – and ask them to look back at their most recent 100 actions on Facebook and Twitter. What percentage will be engagements with brands? It will not be very long.

Another experiment. Go in a grocery store and ask random people if they want to ‘have a relationship’ with any of the brands in their shopping carts. They’ll probably punch you in the face for being a pervert.


We talk about social media all the time. There are entire conferences devoted to it. We’re all probably on social media constantly – and people in this room are probably tweeting comments about our presentations as we are talking. And we assume that everyone uses social media as much as we do.

But here’s a secret: we marketers are not normal people. According to Thinkbox, 93% of marketers have used LinkedIn in the past three months. Among all other people, it’s 14%. 81% of marketers have used Twitter. Among others, 22%. My favorite statistic: 47% of marketers read BuzzFeed — and I still have no idea why — but only 5% of normal people do. We marketers are not the audiences for most of our products and services, but our choices of media mixes all-too-often imply that we are.


After all, the Pew Research Center in the US found that 49% in Germany use the Internet but not social media. 40% in Greece use neither.


Let’s look at some numbers. I had to go to number 17 to find the first brand in my list of the Facebook pages in Denmark with the most followers actually in Denmark. Number 17.


Assuming that Coca Cola Denmark’s market is the entire country of 5.7 million people, I found that only 5% of the market is following the brand on Facebook.


Given a generous rate of 11% of a page’s followers who see an organic post by a page, that means only 0.5% of the market will see an organic post by Coca Cola. In terms of advertising reach, that’s as effective as Kendall Jenner giving a Pepsi to a police officer in riot gear. Too soon?

Social media was never going to be about brands engaging with human beings. People want to talk with other people on social media, not brands. But where social media can be effective is as a communications channel over which we can execute campaigns within the traditional promotion mix.

There will be no ‘social media jobs’ in five or 10 years. Advertisers will do advertising over social media. PR people will do media relations and community relations over social media. Customer support people will do customer service over social media. Just like we can do any of these activities over email, the telephone, or TV – and no one ever used the phrase ‘TV marketing’. Social media is just a new set of mediums and tools over which we can do the same old marketing activities.


But one fact still stands. TV is still the best advertising medium. Just because a medium is popular does not mean that it is a good advertising medium. Just because a medium is less popular does not mean that it is a bad advertising medium. The two issues are completely different questions.

The data proves the point. Karen Nelson-Field, a professor at the University of Adelaide and the founder of Media Intelligence Company, gave this presentation at a recent ReThinkTV event in Australia.

More people actively view an advertisement on television compared to the same ad on YouTube or Facebook. Facebook is the king of passive viewing. Many people on YouTube are not viewing at all because they listen only to the audio while doing something else.


Advertisements on television take up the entire screen but not on YouTube or Facebook. Ads on YouTube or Facebook take up 30% or 10% of the screen respectively.


These two factors — attention and coverage — make TV a much better advertising medium than YouTube or Facebook.

SLIDE 39 — Big Data

The next big lie is that Big Data is the future. Essentially, Big Data is used to deliver the right ad to the right person at the right time. But that’s just a new form of direct marketing. And AI is the dream of direct marketing. See this clip from the film “Minority Report” in 2002.



Now, a lot of marketers probably watched that and thought, “Wow! When can we do that?” But remember: The 99% of people who are not marketers saw Tom Cruise getting scanned for ads and were horrified. Remember, the world in Minority Report is a dystopia. The ads in that world are as real as Tom Cruise’s marriages.


People hate direct marketing. And they REALLY hate online direct marketing. It’s why Big Data is not some miracle sent by the marketing gods. At best, you’re collecting personal data. At worst, you’re using private data and annoying the people you’re getting it from.


We’ve had online ads for 25 years, but what really drove people crazy was direct marketing through retargeting. Linux Journal editor Doc Searls found that the increase in Google searches for “how to block ads” correlates almost exactly with the searches for “retargeting.” People hate retargeting so much that they finally looked for ways to block ads. In other words, if anyone here has done retargeting, you’re the reason that we have ad blocking.


Now, ad blocking is increasing every year.


Globally, 7% of people block ads. In Denmark, 25% of people do it.

Retargeting in online direct response campaigns has turned the marketing industry into drug addicts on the path to suicide. We like the constant highs of the purchases and conversions, but all of those hits are eventually going to kill us once consumers have had enough and block ads altogether.

I used to work in marketing, and I think retargeting is creepy. It’s one of the reasons that I have four advertising and script blockers as well as a VPN when I browse the web. I do not want people like me collecting my personal information.


Here is the real problem: ad blocking affects more than ads. It will stop ALL martech and adtech such as the twenty-three trackers that collect your data when you visit TechCrunch. Ad blockers stop websites from loading all front-end scripts such as Google Analytics. Think about the implications as more and more people use script-blocking ad blockers.


Even more, VPNs are used by 25% of the world and transmit fake data.


Even more, Apple’s Safari 11 deletes tracking cookies after one day.


Because of all of this, we cannot depend on Big Data.


But here’s the real problem.


If you have not heard, the forthcoming EU GDPR regulation will eliminate all non-consensual consumer tracking and personal data collection. In other words, marketers will not be able to collect and use any personal data unless people opt-in and allow it.


According to PageFair, only 5% of consumers will opt-in and allow tracking to the same extent that exists today. That means that marketers will lose 95% of their data.


And if someone catches you breaking the rules, here are the fines. 20 million euros or 4% of all global top-line revenue from the prior year.


Now, why is privacy such a big concern? Here’s the perfect example.

A reporter in the UK asked Tinder for her data. She got 800 pages! From Tinder, a silly dating app. Imagine how much Google and Facebook have on us.


Google and Facebook have tracking on 75% and 25% of the Internet. But the use of Big Data depends on consumers opting into or not opting out of supplying their personal information. That will not continue.

Just as with the marketing of old, creativity will always remain our not-so-secret advantage. Big Data is a lie; creativity is still the future of marketing.

SLIDE 56 — Conclusion

Now, from advertising to content marketing to social media to TV, why do we make so many bad assumptions and believe so many wrong facts? Simple: we have believed the bullshit that companies selling software and experts with agendas have told us over the past 15 years.

To quote Ad Contrarian Bob Hoffman, “nobody ever got famous predicting that things would pretty much stay the same.” The best way to get attention is to say that everything has changed – and, conveniently, that you have the best solution in response.

Of course, it’s a lie most of the time – marketing communications does not really change that much. A company that sells inbound marketing software is going to tell the world that outbound marketing is dead. A company that sells content marketing courses and tickets is going to say that content marketing ‘is the only marketing left’.

So what happens is that these companies put out studies and give conference presentations that always proclaim that something has changed – and we believe them even though they rarely offer proof or evidence and are always certainly biased. And their studies are almost never scientifically credible when you look at the methodology.

And all of this causes us to have tunnel vision and work in an echo chamber where all of these falsehoods are repeated over and over again. It leads to a ‘false consensus effect‘ throughout our entire industry. It’s why marketers, who should be the most cynical people on the planet after journalists, are surprisingly susceptible to bullshit.

And it leads us to becoming bad marketers because we create bad strategies based on bad assumptions.

So, here is how I recommend that marketers move forward.

When I give presentations as a keynote marketing speaker and write The Promotion Fix column in The Drum, I often talk about the integration of ‘traditional’ and ‘online’ marketing.

We are all doing marketing communications – and we are all simply doing it over various online and digital mediums in the process. We can do tactics such as brand advertising, public relations, and direct marketing over traditional or online channels. We should not be ‘digital-first’ or ‘offline-first’. We should be channel neutral and use the best media mix as the customer-facing research determines.

The truth is that the internet did not change that much in terms of marketing communications. What has changed is that we have an additional set of channels that we can choose to use in our campaigns for our marketing tactics and that those channels allow for different marketing collateral formats.


It all comes back to the marketing promotion mix. Marketing communications always has been and always will be the creation and transmission of marketing collateral across channels within specific frameworks such as advertising, direct marketing, or publicity. In 2017, we have the choice of mediums ranging from TV and print to social media, blogs and ad networks to, probably soon, virtual and augmented reality.


Sometimes TV is a good medium for a specific purpose; sometimes not. Sometimes social media is a good medium; sometimes not. Usually, we need to include online and offline activities in our promotion mixes to achieve the best results. Being digital-only is often a mistake, especially when so much of the data is completely wrong and a lot of money is lost to online advertising fraud.

We need to be strategic and channel-neutral in a world of integrated online and offline marketing. There is no ‘offline marketing’ and ‘digital marketing’. There is only marketing.

But here is the key: we need to be realistic about the strengths and weaknesses of different channels. We need to segment and research our target audiences to determine which channels are truly the best ones to use. What mediums are our target audiences actually using? We cannot rely on the alleged wisdom of companies with something to sell and experts with agendas.


We need to stop thinking about the new buzzwords of the moment.


We need to think about which tactics to prioritize in our promotion mixes and then think about which channels in our media mixes are best for each tactic.


Traditional mediums, in my opinion, are still the best for advertising and building brands among mass audiences for the long term.


Digital mediums are becoming the best at direct marketing or direct-response advertising, whichever term you prefer.


Social media and online forums are not about relationships with brands. They are best used for various PR tactics that involve flesh-and-blood human beings such as community relations and influencer relations.


But the most important thing to remember is that being digital-first is a fallacy. We should not be traditional marketers or digital marketers — we should just be marketers that have a variety of different mediums in our toolkits. If you approach every marketing problem with a digital-first mentality, then you are already making assumptions without doing the needed customer-facing research. And if you are a native English speaker, you know what assuming does.


The most important thing is to do the objective research and think for yourself. Don’t believe me or anyone else blindly. After this talk, I just hope all of you will be just a little more skeptical about what people like me tell you at conferences and in articles.

Thank you.

Thanks for reading! Follow me on Twitter and see my marketing speaker page to have me visit your conference or company.

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