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Advertising's Unanswered Questions


It's more challenging than ever to make an effective pitch.


Successful advertising must resonate with an individual's worldview because demographics alone will no longer close the sale, top marketers said Monday.

Digital technology allows advertisers to slice the market in ever-thinner slices in an effort to reach key audiences, but market research is only half the equation.

"The key is to engage the consumer -- not just plaster your company's logo everywhere," Suzy Deering, Verizon's (VZ) executive director for sponsorships, said during panel discussion held as part of Advertising Week in New York.

In the past, advertisers could buy soap operas and reach about 80% of the nation's mothers. That's no longer possible today, thanks to the multiplicity of broadcast, cable, and Internet outlets, as well as the number of women who now work outside the home.

If it's no longer profitable for advertisers to reach a broad audience, it's therefore more important than ever to reach the right audience.

Demographic information remains part of the calculation, but advertisers now must peg the brand's attributes to the interests of the target audience. There may be distinct differences in age, education, and income between NASCAR aficionados and backpackers, but that distinction is blurred when reaching, say, baseball and football fans.

Successful marketing of soft drinks, energy drinks, beer, spring water, or vitamin water requires an understanding of the prospective buyer's current situation and attitude -- you can't sell beer at an ice cream social.

Key words used in an Internet search allow Google (GOOG), Yahoo (YHOO), and Microsoft (MSFT) to serve specific ads to the user. This is a good first step, but it may not be enough to engage the prospective customer and develop a product's profile.

"If you have compelling content, you reach a narrower audience, but give them the tools to apply it -- rally around the passion," said Carol Kruse, vice president of Global Interact Marketing for Coca-Cola (KO).

Product placement has long been an advertising standard. Apple (AAPL) does an excellent job of placing its laptops with the right movie characters, but it may be more effective to make the product part of the story. Jack Bauer, the counter-terrorist hero of Fox's (NWS) hit show 24, uses Sprint (S) wireless service. Deft product placement generates comments like this:

"Last night, I was glued to the latest episode of 24 when I was once again reminded of my iPhone's limitations. If I were in Jack Bauer's shoes, I'd be screwed because the link to the streaming video of a hostage wouldn't play on my iPhone."

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