Active v. Passive in Marketing and Advertising

I’ve always been a big fan of results.

When I set out to create a virtual ad agency in 2001, I wanted to make a difference to clients with messages that mobilized audiences. I didn’t want to have to buy media. I was a copywriter/creative director, not a media buyer. I just wanted to create messaging that moved people to do things. You know, get results and drive sales.

But these messages lived in traditional media—billboards, radio, print, etc. So I sucked it up and created campaigns around traditional media, and clients were happy. Even if they were spending too much on media that didn’t generate the kind of returns that the messages ached for.

Advertising and marketing have changed a lot over time. And these changes accelerate as time passes. For example I remember in 2009 how mainstream media was wary of Twitter and Facebook because they were so different. So new. Hell, I remember in the late 1990s when most companies still didn’t have websites. “Why should we invest in a website when we have a print campaign?” Try not having one today.

Yes, once upon a time marketing and advertising meant committing 15-20% of your annual sales to buying print ads, billboards, radio, and the like. The goal back then was the same as it is now—results.

And in business, results mean sales.


Only, we used to do a lot of hoping back in the day. You had to hope that your audience saw your message, and then hope that the message resonated so that they would act favorably. Television, despite its lure of watchable content, was no different. Your ads were distractions. Yes, TV advertising was as passive as anything before it. Even if it did walk and talk.

Active advertising took a huge leap forward with the advent of big data and its subsequent concatenation.

Thanks to data, we now had access to (mostly) good information that made investing in things like direct mail and email marketing more relevant. Now you could get your messages in the right hands, which is way better than hoping your audience saw it traveling 60 MPH, or heard it while switching channels on the radio. Of course now that the messages were getting directly to your audience, this meant that the messages had to be better than ever, [FNAME].

Time passed and as big data grew and social media sites became goldmines for personal data, active advertising took another huge leap forward. And not just because of the data, either. This new media did something that no media did before it—2-way conversation. Actual engagement. And advertising doesn’t get more active than direct, reciprocal engagement.

Chances are that you likely spend the bulk of your advertising budget in places that feel safe and comfortable because, “That’s the way we’ve always done things.” This may have worked in 2005, heck it may have worked in 2010, but now it’s 2018 and virtually every company in the world uses digital media in some capacity to grow business.

That’s why I challenge you to consider reallocating more of your traditional advertising budget into places that will have the most impact. Don’t worry, if you don’t like the results (you will) you can always go back to a more traditional road.

One great place to start with a more active advertising approach is Search. No, I’m not talking about the black hat tactics of the middle 00s that included keyword stuffing on websites, but rather refreshing your brand to reflect who you are today, and refreshing your website so that it’s fully compliant and optimized with Search Engine best practices.

Chances are that if your website is only a few years old, it needs to be audited to ensure compliance.

By simply doing these two things you stand to substantially increase organic traffic to your site where you can measure results, convert visitors into customers, and begin to have real conversations with your audience. When someone searches for key terms that align with your brand, you show up in the results. Sure, you can pay to show up too, but for most people organic (free) is better. And the money you spend on refreshing your brand and website is but a fraction of what you’d spend on traditional media to gain any traction. Plus, all of this is measurable and scaleable. And, unlike a billboard or print ad that disappears when its run is complete, the investment in digital becomes part of your brand’s legacy. In other words, the investment produces results for years. Digital doesn’t just disappear.

We live in an amazing age that marketers of the past couldn’t even imagine. We now have ways to drive people to your brand that don’t include a huge investment in passive traditional media.

I implore you to consider growing your brand in a more active approach with digital marketing. Because this is the age of active.

You want results from your investment in advertising? Get active. Because active beats passive every time.


About the Author

Jim Mitchem

Jim has been in advertising and marketing for a long time. An award-winning copywriter in his early days, he now focuses on things that matter as a founding partner of Out of the Ether. Jim, a US Air Force Veteran and author, is married with two daughters, and somehow manages a pack of wild dogs.

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