How boring old Stamps.com showed me that new isn't always better in ad tech
I had an experience with advertising this week, where old fashion, lodged-in-the-back-of-the-head brand awareness crossed itself over with an actual, specific need from my own life.
The skies parted. The key clicked. I was converted into being a major fan of a brand that through old school, push-it-to-the-point-of-being-annoying advertising persistence managed to catch my business. I've never felt myself "got" by advertising in such a way.
It made me realize that for all the whizz bang of new ad tech, it's not always as useful as it says on the box.
I spend forever it seems, following and writing about ad tech, hearing about the forever elusive quest for the right combination of technology to get the right message in front of the right person at just the right time. It's led advertisers down a rabbit hole of technology; chasing data about who we are, what we want, and when we might want it. They create complex ad exchanges where computers calculate the value of your eyeballs and bidding for your attention, buying and selling digital ads, all in the time it takes for a page to load.
For all of that, targeted advertising is so usually off base (for me). I keep getting told that the end game with this is to serve me ads for things that I need, before I need them -- the old Google myth of ads so good they're almost content in their own right -- but my experience, and probably yours, is so much different to the hype.
The company I have to thank for showing me the beauty in the old ways is Stamps.com. Botty, 18-years-old, publicly listed, helps you print postage at home Stamps.com. This isn't a company you expect to put on an advertising clinic.
Stamps.com advertises its services relentlessly during podcasts. That's targeting of sorts, in the sense that it can assess with some specificity how many people are listening and that the audience is skewing younger and more tech savvy, with disposable income.
Stamps.com advertises in a lot of podcasts. I listen to Marc Maron. Stamps.com is there. The BS Report. There too. Almost any podcast I listen to, there's Stamps.com. And not just for the last month, or season. It's been going on a long time. As is the podcast way, the hosts read the script. The script is always the same. Have you ever been waiting in line and just realized how much you hate the post office? Well, there’s Stamps.com! $110 bonus offer, no risk trial, free digital postal scale. I have heard it so many times that a friend and I admitted to each other to being achingly curious about how good the free scale is.
At first the ubiquity and repetition of the ad made it a joke, then... I'd just switch off when I heard it.
But then last week I joined Stamps.com. I am self-publishing a book, as part of a Kickstarter campaign I ran last November and in a week I will have 279 books to ship around the world. I was sitting at my desk last weekend, head in hands, thinking of making the world's worst trip to the post office. "There's got to be a better way!"
And then, the ad came to me. An ad I'd listened to blankly -- probably that very week if I did an inventory -- led me the way to a service that could be of great help.
If Stamps.com had chosen to target 18-34 year olds on Facebook in certain zip codes and at various times of day, we might've missed each other. Instead, they chose to build brand awareness through sheer pigheaded stubbornness, putting out the same message in the same place, week in, week out.
Make sure the people know who you are so you're there when they need you. Stamps.com covered that base perfectly. Stop trying to create need artificially. Just be there when it arises.
It was a small lesson that the tools might have gotten a lot fancier in advertising, but the point is more or less the same.