How I got into Advertising

And why I haven’t left

Few people may know this, but I never intended to build a career in advertising. 8 years ago, after finishing my Finance degree and travelling for half-a-year, I was simply looking for a way to make some money in order to pay for my traveling bills. I wasn’t looking for my next career move and didn’t even think about what type of industry I’d like to be involved in. I was young and full of ambition, but yet I wasn’t particularly looking to build a career — at least not at that moment. I applied to a ton of jobs in tons of different fields, and even applied to be a cook at a local restaurant.

One of the jobs that I remember applying for was as a ‘’search marketing analyst’’ at a large media agency headquartered in Montreal. I remember going to the interview and not knowing what search marketing was. I didn’t realize that there were people working full-time to put ads on Google. I was clueless, having never been exposed to that industry before that moment. It was an entry level job where I would have the opportunity to learn about marketing, so I took the job, and dedicated the next two years learning as much as I can about search marketing.

Fast forward to today, I’ve been fortunate enough to work with large clients from multiple verticals and being exposed to a broad set of marketing challenges. My search marketing skills helped me assimilate new concepts related to performance marketing, and later expanding my knowledge into the broader sphere of marketing.

Looking back, I can identify one reason in particular that would explain why I haven’t left — change happens often, and change happens fast. Successful advertisers need to constantly be on the lookout for new media opportunities, technologies, digital trends, shifts in consumer behavior, government regulations, and the list goes on.

Advertising is about connecting a brand to a consumer — and the way we do so has drastically changed since I started my career 8 years ago. What worked 8 years ago definitely isn’t working today, and what’s working today will likely not work next year. Heck, it might not even work next week. But that’s what’s so fascinating about this industry. We get to constantly reinvent the playbook, and in the process, we become better advertisers. We need to embrace the change and learn from it.

Here are just a few ways in which the industry has changed since I started:

  1. There are many more ways to reach a consumer

Looking back at my early days, there was only a handful of ways to efficiently reach consumers online, namely through Google Ads and Facebook — the latter started its’ sponsored ads program in 2007 with very basic targeting capabilities and creative freedom. Since then, the way we search or consume information has drastically changed. We now rely on voice search, tend to prefer video content over text (yet I’m here), and we’re now entering a new wave of AR/VR brand activations. Today, brands can reach consumers on Spotify, YouTube, Pinterest, Snapchat, and more, using highly-targeted capabilities and creative formats that are wired to drive results. With more ways to engage with a consumer than even before, the concept of Permission Marketing, introduced by Seth Godin in 1999, should be top-of-mind to any brand of advertiser. In his book, Seth Godin describes this concept as:

The privilege (not the right) of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who actually want to get them.

It’s always very tempting to try the new format or platform to reach a potential customer, but we should always keep in mind that we are interacting with real humans. 22 years later, the concept of permission marketing is more timely than ever before. Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should. Which brings me to my next point.

2. Consumers hold a lot more power

In his book, Seth Godin also refers to the power of consumers:

It (permission marketing ) recognizes the new power of the best consumers to ignore marketing. It realizes that treating people with respect is the best way to earn their attention.

The advertising industry is at a turning point, where there are now systems in place to allow consumers to decide which website can track their activity and where they see ads. They can either pay for a service, or have access to that same service for free in exchange for their attention when the video or audio ad rolls in. This is a fair trade-off that benefits the streaming services regardless of what option their consumers opt for, as they generate revenues from both subscription and advertising dollars. Right now, big digital players (Google, Facebook, etc..) are making changes to their algorithms in order to comply with government regulations and ensure that the data of their consumers remains private and secure. Most advertisers are worrying about the impact on their media campaigns — namely, if less people are being tracked across the web, then they’ll struggle to reach the same population as before. In advertising jargon, we’ll talk about this in terms of audience size, which will likely diminish as a result of all of these changes.

That being said, I think that these changes can also benefit advertisers. As a general manner, I don’t pay too much attention to the size of audiences. I’m more interested in the engagement I get from reaching smaller groups of people. I see all of these changes as a sort of natural selection — essentially, people who do wish to be tracked across the web will be more receptive to advertising messages, and therefore engage with our content more than ever before. This should actually help advertisers reach an audience that is more engaged and likely to convert, although the scale of the audience will be lower than before.

Data privacy is at the core of these changes, with consumers now having more control over how their personal data is being used, putting pressure on advertising and creative agencies to create ads that are more useful, relevant, personalized, and timely. Even though technology is allowing us to reach these people in a more efficient way than ever before, there is a still a lot of things that technology cannot do, bringing me to my third and last point for today.

3. There is still a lot of things we don’t know

Technology has undeniably allowed us to become more productive. I remember launching my very first paid search campaign. It took me days of doing keyword research, writing ads, and eventually launched it through Google Ads. A couple of weeks ago, I was curious to know how the process of launching a search campaign evolved so I gave it a shot, and in 15 minutes, I had a full campaign running on its’ own. Everything was seamless through the Google ads interface. No bulky excel sheet necessary. The digital ad industry is lot more accessible today, thanks to technological improvements from the big players, but there is still of things that technology cannot do, especially when it comes to measurement. We still cannot scientifically measure the impact of most advertising efforts and make clear correlations with the bottom line. The truth is that there are a ton of factors that can influence the bottom line, and the most successful brands are working towards building dynamic attribution models so they can make better decisions.

John Wanamker (1838–1922), considered by some as a pioneer in marketing, once said:

Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.

And nearly a century later, I feel like we are still very far from truly measuring the impact of every advertising dollars.

That being said, having a strong brand foundation remains one of the best ways to thrive in a crowded market. To this day, I still believe that one of the most efficient ways to build a successful brand is through the customer experience. No amount of paid advertising, newsletters or TV ads can make up for a bad customer experience.

As Seth Godin said in his same book:

Real permission works like this: if you stop showing up, people complain, they ask where you went.

Investing the time and energy to deliver real value to your customers will allow you to build a strong brand foundation, while also improving the performance of your paid advertising campaigns.

The ad industry is centered around grabbing attention and that’s usually achieved by using a combination of great creatives and smart media placement. Changes in consumer behavior will keep on shaping the industry, meaning that advertisers will once again adapt their strategies to stay relevant. They’ll once again, reinvent the playbook and in turn, become better advertisers.

And that’s why I haven’t left!

Marketer, athlete, husband. I love writing about technology, advertising and fitness.