Au Contraire, Ad Contrarian: In Defense Of Digital Advertising

Ad-Contrarian-Book-Cover-NewBob Hoffman is an advertising legend — a seasoned ad executive who has gained a reputation as one of the most influential advertising bloggers. His books, The Ad Contrarian and 101 Contrarian Ideas About Advertising, top the Amazon bestseller list for advertising.

Most of the time, I find myself whole-heartedly agreeing with his terse tweets and bellicose blog posts. Until now.

In his recent blog post, “Product Advertising and The Super Bowl,” Hoffman basically blames the collective creative “meh” that was Super Bowl advertising this year on digital advertising.

In his view, the advertising world is experiencing an overall shift in focus from TV to web, and agencies are investing more in creative talent with web skills as a result. As he put it, the “web-first chickens have come home to roost,” implying that the internet is the reason that Madison Avenue can’t write a decent commercial anymore.

His twisted logic goes something like this:

  1. Agencies think TV is dying and digital is the next big thing.
  2. Therefore, they’ve hired people with digital skills (which are largely tactical).
  3. There’s not much creativity in web advertising (his exact words are “pure awful”).
  4. There are only two kinds of advertising on the web: direct response and branding (which, by the way, are the least important types of advertising).
  5. There is very little product advertising on the web (which is the noblest form of advertising).
  6. TV is just trying to be like the web.
  7. Therefore, the internet is responsible for crappy Super Bowl Ads.

As a digital marketer, I’d be offended if the whole argument wasn’t just absurd. So, instead, I offer a point-by-point rebuttal in defense of digital advertising:

1. Agencies Think TV Is Dying And Digital Is The Next Big Thing

Digital isn’t the next thing, it is the thing. The presence of the second, third and fourth screen fundamentally changes the way we interact with the first. So while TV isn’t dying, it’s definitely evolving — and digital is the catalyst.

2. Digital Talent Is Too Tactical, Less Creative

Did you not hire “tactical” screenwriters, producers and post-production teams to make your television advertising? Did a tactical focus preclude any strategic planning you did to make the commercial?

If digital folks aren’t strategic enough, it’s because the old media hens are still sitting on the golden egg of brand strategy.

3. Web Advertising Is Not Creative

Well, this depends on your definition of creativity. What’s more creative: making a “persuasive, eloquent” ad, or creating entirely new ways to advertise?

Is it possible that digital eliminates the need to “persuade” a consumer altogether, instead offering them something even more compelling — like direct access to the actual solution?

4. Direct Response And Branding Are The Least Important Types Of Advertising

I think most CMOs responsible for a P&L would disagree that direct response advertising is the least important form of advertising. Perhaps branding and direct response are the least important forms of television advertising.

5. There Is Very Little Product Advertising On The Web

You’re right, there is little product advertising on the web. Unless you include all search advertising, product listing ads, comparison shopping engines, user reviews and native advertising.

Maybe we don’t need the television industrial complex to tell us “why” we need a product anymore. Maybe digital has given us the tools to figure that out for ourselves now. With the rise of always-on connectivity, advertising’s role shifts to direct intent, not manufacture it.

6. TV Is Trying To Be Like The Web

If you mean TV is trying to be as relevant to both consumers and advertisers, point conceded.

7. The Internet Is Responsible For Crappy Super Bowl Ads

Considering the above points, I’d argue that digital advertising isn’t the reason the Super Bowl ads are bad — maybe it’s just the reason Super Bowl ads are becoming increasingly irrelevant, ineffective and uninspired in comparison.

In a recent AdExchanger article, CEO, Frost Prioleau, outlined what an equivalent investment in programmatic advertising could deliver versus a Super Bowl ad. For almost all categories of advertisers, a digital buy can deliver more targeted, measurable value for chicken feed compared to the cost of a $4 million dollar TV spot.

If the Super Bowl ads sucked, digital advertising isn’t the side of the industry with egg on its face. After putting all of its creative eggs in one basket for far too long, perhaps it’s time for the legendary TV advertisers to cross the road and lend their formidable planning and creative talents to the “web-first” spring chickens.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Display Advertising | Display Advertising Column | Features: The #Hashtag Bowl | Super Bowl


About The Author: is the VP, Marketing at, a programmatic marketing platform that leverages unstructured data. A former strategic marketing consultant, client-side marketing executive and agency strategist, Amber is an expert in trust-based marketing–creating lasting, mutually-beneficial relationships between brands and customers.

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  • James

    BAM! You really brought the heat on this response. Very well said. It makes me want to follow you on every platform so I don’t miss the next round of well-deserved bitch-slappage delivered by your hand! BRAVA!

  • bob hoffman

    This is just perfect. I am lectured on the power of web advertising by a VP/Marketing with 99 Twitter followers.

  • Tad Miller

    Yes, Agencies think TV is dying. It’s got one generation left as the advertising top dog and then the next generation finishes it off:


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