Advertising Mindset: From 'Most People' to 'Right People'

Posted on 12/22/2009 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

To the degree your photographic business is based on revenue from advertising, there will never be an economic recovery. It is time to begin looking for other revenue options if you intend to maintain your current lifestyle.

What aspects of the photo business are supported by advertising?

Certainly, if your pictures are used in magazine, newspaper or television ads that are designed to appeal to the masses, you can expect a slow but steady decline in those uses. If you produce editorial content for magazines or newspapers, there will also be a continued decline in such uses, because these products are supported to a great extent by advertising revenue. If your pictures are used in any way to promote products or services that are potentially used by a broad cross-section of the population, you can expect a decline in such promotions.

Are such predictions too bold?

The people paying the bills are forcing the advertising industry to turn away from trying to reach the most people to reaching the right people. Previously, someone trying to sell a product or service had little choice but to promote this product to the world, because there was no way target only those who would potentially be interested in the product.

Almost a century ago, John Wanamaker said, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted. The trouble is, I don’t know which half.” (This quote is also sometimes attributed to William Hesketh Lever, of Lever Brothers soap.) Advertisers are now insisting that their agencies move away from mass advertising and find ways to target their sales pitch to only those likely to be interested in the message. Increasingly, technology is making that possible.

The transition is not easy. It is often difficult to identify everyone in a particular target group. As a result, there still is a lot of wasted advertising being pushed on people who have absolutely no interest in the promoted product or service. Yet like it or not, there is no question that technology is moving rapidly in the direction of knowing everything about an individual’s interests and needs.

In conjunction with AdSense, Google now offers Interest-Based Advertising, which tracks what you do online and delivers advertisements based on the history of your activity. If you search for a D700 and put one in a shopping cart, but never actually purchase it, Google gives advertisers a way to constantly remind you of deals on the D700. You can opt-out of allowing your data to be stored in this way, but most don’t bother. Many Internet users may consider this type of advertising and usage of their personal information preferable to being bombarded in the traditional manner with ads for items that are of absolutely no interest to them. It may also take a while for Google to gather enough data to really get to know you, but with a few years of data they should be able to make some very accurate predictions about your likes, dislikes and interests. Google launched this program in early 2009.

Google says, “We believe that ads are a valuable source of information—one that can connect people to the advertisers offering products, services and ideas that interest them. By making ads more relevant, and improving the connection between advertisers and our users, we can create more value for everyone. Users get more useful ads, and these more relevant ads generate higher returns for advertisers and publishers.”

Unlike John Wannamaker, today’s advertisers will be able to eliminate a lot of their wasted costs. They will focus on those interested in what they produce and avoid the rest. Because they will not be wasting so much on advertising that has no chance of generating a sale, they will be able to use that money to offer better discounts or incentives to the customer. When they advertise online, and particularly when they deliver products of services through online transactions, they will be able to very precisely measure how much advertising it takes to sell how much product.

A higher percentage of total advertising will appear online. When advertisers use photos in these ads, they will be able to better gage whether that $1,000 photo really resulted in more sales than the $5 one. They’ll also be able to track results in a more timely manner.

Think small.

Jumping back to print, the things that are working in that environment are the special interest and very targeted publications that have been able to carve out a relatively small segment of the population with a very narrow and focused interest. The problem with this is that these are the publications that have always had very low photo usage rates. Often, the pictures they need for both editorial and advertising use are very specialized, and as a result tend not to sell in high volume.

Copyright © 2009 Jim Pickerell. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

Jim Pickerell is founder of, an online newsletter that publishes daily. He is also available for personal telephone consultations on pricing and other matters related to stock photography. He occasionally acts as an expert witness on matters related to stock photography. For his current curriculum vitae go to:  


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