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Stupid Media Watch: Ad Age? Really?

By Ken Magill
Long-time readers know I launched Stupid Media Watch years ago because I knew the consumer press would be a never-ending source of idiocy when it comes to marketing.
I never thought Ad Age would earn a place here. But here we go.
Ad Age recently published a ludicrous, evidence-free column calling catalogs an environmentally damaging, outdated marketing tool.
 “Companies need to quit hiding behind false claims and old ways and adopt more creative and sensible ways to reach and influence customers,” Michael Fernandez, CEO of marketing agency Factory 360 in the column headlined: “Direct Marketing Catalogs are Out of Control.”
Curiously, he failed to include a single so-called false claim. Maybe that’s because no “claim” of any sort drives the use of catalogs as a marketing tactic. Revenue and only revenue does.
“If it's not broke, don't fix it,” continued Fernandez. “Now there's a dangerous mentality in business. Unfortunately, it's still prevalent among even the best and the brightest. For example, companies continue to spend millions of dollars producing print catalogs when we live in a digital, eco-conscious world. It's absurd.”
Thing is, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it is exactly the opposite approach a typical direct marketer takes with catalogs.
As Fernandez points out, catalogs are extremely resource intensive.
“From months of planning to extravagant photo shoots, print catalogs come at a hefty price,” he wrote.
They sure do, which is why every single page of a typical catalog is measured for performance.
Actually, in my experience every single square inch of a typical catalog is measured for performance and tweaked if it doesn’t stack up.
Product managers at a business-to-business catalog firm I once worked for would spend hours doing square-inch analysis on the pages of the catalogs they managed. They would then rearranging and swap out products to get low-performing square inches selling at acceptable levels.
Moreover, merchants who use catalogs have every financial incentive in the world to remove non-responders from their files.
Not broke? It’s all always broke or at least on the verge of breaking—from the offer to the list to the creative—as far as direct marketers are concerned, and continually being fixed. It’s called testing.
Fernandez also claims catalogs harm the environment, apparently unaware that digital media consumes vast amounts of energy from coal-fired power plants,  requires devices that must be disposed of, and that as a result, the debate over whether or not digital is greener than print is far from settled.
Then Fernandez delivers a ridiculous historical comparison:
“Have we not learned anything from Blockbuster?” he wrote. “The former video giant closed its doors practically overnight because its leaders failed to innovate and, as a result, became victim to digital media. Simply stated, they lacked vision.”
What the hell has Blockbuster’s demise have to do with cataloging? Catalogers certainly have embraced digital marketing. They’re called ecommerce websites for chrissakes.
And guess what: When those catalogs go out, orders on the websites go up. It’s all very measurable. There are even services available to help marketers track online orders driven by print catalogs.
And if catalogs stop performing—which they may as younger generations grow up—distance merchants will stop using them.
“Today is not where I want my marketing team to play,” wrote Fernandez. “A catalog might be the safe play, but it sure as heck isn't the walk-off home run that is going to separate a business from the pack and leave its customers wanting more.”
And here is where Fernandez is just dead wrong. If we’re going to stick with the baseball analogy, I don’t want my marketing team swinging for the fences and hitting easily caught pop flies. 
I want them stringing together singles and doubles that result in systematically slicing the competition to ribbons.
Catalogs remain an integral part of many marketers’ channel mix for one reason: They work. If they stop working, no one will have to be convinced to abandon them. They will simply cease to be.
But abandoning catalogs for the reasons Fernandez offers would be sheer folly.

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Terms: Feel free to be as big a jerk as you want, but don't attack anyone other than me personally. And don't criticize people or companies other than me anonymously. Got something crappy to say? Say it under your real name. Anonymous potshots and personal attacks aimed at me, however, are fine.

Posted by:
Date: 2014-06-21 12:58:11
Subject: If a tree falls in the woods...

Ad Age is subject to knee-jerk articles because nobody can explain why certain mediums fail or succeed anymore. Yellow Pages works for some but is a dismal failure for others. My point being that society is still in the dating phase of so-called "new media", and the "old media" folks are quick to blame the reliable wife to attract the sexy new girlfriend. Fact is, Ken, you are spot-on. Ad Age holds loyalty to old media but can't help new media kill it (becauseit ddoesn't want to be killed), so they dramatize every fart in the wind.
Posted by: Stephanie Miller
Date: 2014-06-18 15:11:33
Subject: Totally Agree!

We blogged about this on DMA Advance, saying a similar thing - I too thought it was very irresponsible to give this guy a voice without some fact checking. He's entitled to an opinion, of course. Glad you called it out, although always hate to see these things get more play.