I’ve been reading Al & Laura Ries’ “The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR”, and it got me thinking: Is advertising really dead? If so, why are so many people doing it?

I’m utterly convinced that you cannot build a brand through advertising — at least not profitably. So, what’s the right way to view advertising? Well, first off, there are products that can be introduced and sold to someone in 30 seconds – cheap consumer products and food. You don’t need to be convinced to subscribe to a certain “worldview” to think “Hey, that cheeseburger looks tasty.”

So, let’s skip that stuff and talk about things like cars and designer clothes. Branding is about building a imaginary world. A world where people behave a certain way, look a certain way, do certain things. Most of it is completely bogus. Drinking Budweiser will not make bikini girls flock to your backyard. Ralph Lauren Polo shirts do not come with free country club memberships, drinking Starbucks coffee does not make you part of the cosmopolitan elite.

Convincing people (on a subconscious level) that these worlds are real cannot be done in a 30 seconds. What can be done in 30 seconds is convincing someone that now is the time to become part one of these worlds. One way is to offer a financial incentive (0% financing on that new Lexus). But another way is to simply tweak your message to appeal to someone you don’t ordinarily reach. Someone who knows all about your brand, is intrigued by it, but doesn’t quite feel like they belong. Starbucks can take 30 seconds to show average Joes that their brand isn’t just for rich snobs. Walmart can take 30 seconds to, well, do the opposite.