Magazine article Marketing

Mark Ritson on Branding: Alternative Has Become Traditional

Magazine article Marketing

Mark Ritson on Branding: Alternative Has Become Traditional

Article excerpt

I was on a panel of experts last week at a big conference in Asia.

The conference dinner the night before had been far too vigorous and an old friend from the drinks industry had been updating me on Asian drinking alternatives. It was now the morning after the night before and I was nursing the mother of all hangovers. I found myself gulping down water, wincing every time a flashbulb went off, and looking out into a sea of marketers hoping desperately that nobody would ask me anything tricky.

Which was when a voice from the darkness asked 'What are the traditional communication tools and what are the non-traditional ones?' I gulped This was actually quite an interesting question and, as with most interesting questions about marketing, the answer was: 'It depends'.

In the olden days the answer was simple. Anything above-the-line - advertising - was deemed to be the traditional communication tool for building brands. The less traditional, and somewhat less glamorous tools, such as direct marketing and sales promotions, were the alternative approaches. Below-the-line did not just refer to the method of commission for these alternative methods, it was also a way of positioning them as sub-standard and unconventional compared with the gold standard of advertising.

Things changed in the 80s. Once-frowned-upon tools such as direct mail and sales promotions became increasingly accepted as advertising's equivalent and often its superior. A proven ability to deliver big ROI and the emerging agency expertise in these approaches meant these tools became traditional in every sense of the word.

Clutter had begun to emerge as a key problem for marketers and the new non-traditional tools were those freshly created by marketers to get around or through the cluttered communication landscape. Ambient methods such as ads above the urinals in toilets and infomercials became all the rage.

Then came the internet. Almost overnight, non-traditional meant anything online. First it was clunky web pages, then banner ads, then search optimisation, then blogs. Most marketers who experienced the turn of the century drew a distinction between the traditional offline world and the alternative tools associated with online communications.

But with internet spend now featuring heavily in most companies' marketing budgets, it is hard to continue to equate online marketing as an alternative approach any more. …

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