Damned If You Do

In 2017, digital finally beat traditional media.

Only it happened in a way that a lot of people don’t care at all about: the amount spent on advertising.

Digital ad spend last year was $209 billion worldwide, and over 99% of that money went to the two platforms considered the kings of digital advertising: Google AdWords and Facebook Ads.

Since AdWords was launched in 2000 with 350 advertisers, entire marketing specializations have been created to take advantage of the system, and Facebook Ads have the ability to let you target specific groups of users, right down to the city in which they live.

Technology, it seems, has turned our modern times into the golden age of marketing.

What could be wrong with such amazing and progressive systems?

Sarcasm aside, the truth of the matter is that people are always willing to overlook a system’s flaws, no matter how egregious they may be, if that system has the potential to help them reach their goals.

Facebook was already sitting on endless mountains of personal data that people freely volunteered. All it took was one bad actor to bring it to attention, and perhaps most frightening of all, the whole thing has simply blown over.

Due to the popularity of AdWords, coupled with the way Pay-Per-Click works, it is often a prohibitively expensive solution that can decimate marketing budgets. Even a business pursuing lesser-trafficked keywords could end up spending tens of thousands a month.

There’s also no guarantee that your ad spend has any effect. Some people may be inclined to skip television commercials, but we’ve all uniformly been trained to reject anything that we don’t control in our digital experience.

It’s genuinely upsetting that this is the direction that the marketing industry is heading in.

So long as the only goal of digital marketing is to get your ad in front of as many people as possible, using the same spots on the same platforms as everyone else, can you really call that marketing?

This is meant to be a business about standing out, being interesting, and getting noticed.

Not following the same cookie-cutter approach as countless others.

But these are big platforms, and their proponents will point to that size to defend them.

If so many people are using something, it can’t be bad, right?

You’re damned if you do, and you’re damned if you don’t.