Seth Godin’s Akimbo: Advertising Built the World

In his Akimbo podcast, Seth Godin teaches us how to adopt a posture of possibility, change the culture, and choose to make a difference. Here are my takeaways from the episode.

In this podcast, Seth discusses the trends in advertising and how they differ before and now. Understanding how advertising has evolved can help us understand how marketing and our culture have shifted over time.

Advertising is not marketing, but advertising has been a significant element of many organizations’ marketing efforts. Advertising has played an undeniable role in shaping the Western culture for the last 150 years. Four key features describe the advertising’s impact on culture up to now.

The first element is the advertising’s target. The brands’ advertising has been generally targeted at a segment of the population. For example, suppose we wanted to sell laundry detergent. In that case, we will likely advertise it in the afternoon on soap operas because it is typically women who decide which soap to buy.

The second element is being measured. For a long time, advertisers pretended to measure their ads, but precise measurements have been difficult to pin down. Without a reliable feedback loop, measuring the effectiveness of TV and radio ads has been unprecise. It was more fun and more lucrative to not measure precisely, but people had a hunch that measurement mattered.

The third element was frequency. While many traditional marketers do not prefer frequent advertising, experience tells us that that frequency works. Writing the same ad more than once pays off as it scales.

The fourth element was the blurb. For a long time, advertisers have figured out that the closer they could get to looking like an endorsement, the better the ad would work. The goal is to blend the products into things that we naturally do daily.

After the Internet came along, we have seen a significant transformation in how organizations advertise. The advances in connectivity and technologies have made companies like Google and Facebook the powerhouses in the field of advertising. Google has been making money by organizing and creating an inventory of the world’s information. Facebook took similar tactics and making a tremendous profit by organizing and creating an inventory of the world’s people.

With the Internet’s help, the advertisers can now be very targeted, do fine-grain measurements, serve ads frequently, and make the blurbs even more pervasive. Traditional TV and radio are the media for macro-advertising. The Internet came into the advertising space and became the medium for micro-advertising.

With the Internet, we now get chased by numerous targeted ads from all sorts of sources at a mind-numbing frequency and customized messages/blurbs. Those ads follow us everywhere we go because our presence on the Internet is closely tracked at every juncture. Now there is an infinite number of voices chasing a finite number of advertisers.

Most of all, the most debilitating element to our culture is the blurb. There were minimal blurbs in network TV days, but now it is much harder to separate the pretending ad messages from the genuine blurbs. As people who are interested in making positive changes to our culture, it is crucial to understand how advertising has changed. The understanding can help us deliver our change messages more effectively.