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Many marketers believe that corporate mass marketing is dying.
"We're watching it die," says Godin in "Meatball Sundae."
The disintegration of mass marketing was occurring before the Internet, says Godin, as a greater variety of products became available and markets became fragmented. But the Internet has accelerated the trend and added new dimensions to it, enabling geographically dispersed communities of interest to find one another and congregate online, and enabling new modes of businesses to serve them.
In the old era of mass marketing, explains Godin, companies set up factories in which they mass produced items and mass marketed them using tried-and true formulas via the mass media modes they helped create - TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, direct mail, catalogs, and billboards. These forms of media all involved one-way transmission to a mass audience.
Corporations were able to exercise control over consumers through the limited number of products, channels, and stores, and through control of the one-way media. As Godin says, "The key drivers in old advertising were a scarcity of choice and a large resource of cheap attention."
David Ogilvy in 1983, ten years before the Internet began its rise, asserted that increasing cost and market fragmentation were causing mass market advertising to decline. In "Ogilvy on Advertising" he wrote that we had reached "the end of the block-buster brand," explaining that:
"It has become prohibitively expensive to launch brands aimed at a dominant share-of-market. Even manufacturers with the biggest war-chests are finding it more profitable to aim their new brands at narrowly defined segments of the market. The recent launch of a new cigarette cost $100,000,000. The advent of cable television, with 50 or more channels, will make it easier to aim your advertising at special groups of consumers. There may never be another universal giant like Tide or Maxwell House."
With more choices and channels, customers are no longer hostages of old marketing, argues Godin, who asserts that it is no longer easy for corporate mass marketing to foist on people inferior products, which he calls "meatballs."
Clumsy attempts are being made by corporations to gussy up their meatballs by promoting them via flashy Web 2.0 media, which Godin likens to putting sundae topping on the meatballs. "The very advantages our organizations are built on are fading," says Godin, "and no amount of flash is going to sell these meatballs."
The consumer, says Godin, has the power to say, "If I'm not interested in what you have to say, I won't watch it."
Similarly, Locke argues that his agenda has been "to show that marketing as currently practiced is badly mismatched to the culture of the Internet."
Not Dead Yet
Not all observers believe that mass marketing is dead.
"The predicted demise of mass marketing is somewhat premature," said marketing guru Philip Kotler in "Kotler on Marketing" in 1999. Kotler argued that that mass marketing still could be used effectively, pointing to its success in emerging markets like the former Soviet Union. "Such companies as McDonald's, Nike, and proctor & Gamble are rushing in with their mass-produced products and are attracting numerous consumers eager to buy their well-known brands," said Kotler.
Similarly, Jean-Marie Dru in "Disruption" described how, in France, initial resistance to McDonald's was overcome through effective mass advertising that resulted in the number of McDonald's restaurants increasing from 20 to 500, and still rising.
Ross Dawson, described as "an expert on the future of media and technology trends who is chairman of the global events and consulting firm Future Exploration Network, CEO of the consulting firm Advanced Human Technologies, and writer of the blog Trends in the Living Networks," sees mass media and micro-media blending. Says Dawson:
"Mass media will not die - what we are seeing emerge is a continuous spectrum from traditional mass media through to small community-based conversations. For any particular client or campaign, PR professionals will have to consider where across this spectrum of media they should be investing energy to achieve results."
Indeed, a look at our culture today shows that mass advertisement continues to be used effectively to promote soda, beer, vodka, fast food, cereal, soup, candy, snacks, cars, airlines, computers, soap, shampoo, detergent, drugs, perfume, clothing, razor blades, department stores, insurance, and other goods and services.
Whether mass media is dead, alive, or diminished, there is no disputing that a multitude of communities have manifested themselves online, and that if marketers wish to reach these communities, they must do so through new and non-traditional methods.
While giving mass marketing its due, Kotler in 1999, recognized that "Today's markets are fracturing into smaller collections of minimarkets." Kotler noted that, "The Digital Revolution has fundamentally altered our concepts of space, time, and mass."
In response to the new digital marketplace, he foresaw that the practice of marketing would undergo the revolutionary changes we are seeing today. "In the coming decade marketing will be reengineered from A to Z," said Kotler, explaining that engaging customers would become part of the equation:
"Marketers will need to rethink fundamentally the process by which they identify, communicate, and deliver customer value. They will need to improve their skills in managing individual customers and allies. They will need to involve their customers in the act of codesigning their desired products."