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The Magical Mythical Maze of Online Advertising

Johnny Molson


You can’t reach the masses by targeting online.

Online is pretty nifty. Six Degrees of Separation is now down to about 3.5 degrees. It’s faster than instantaneous. I sit in my office and do work for companies in China, Namibia, and Brazil.

You can advertise to everyone for free! Woops… hang on… that last one needs some dissection.

Way back in the internet dark ages (1994?) we were fed a line that said, “all you have to do is put up a website, and customers will magically find you.” But, customers didn’t. And, they still don’t.

This promise has gotten small businesses and large corporations in trouble. They forego mass media in favor of hyper-targeting. But, hyper-targeting has never built a strong brand. For that you need mass media.

In 2011, Google coined the phrase Zero Moment of Truth. It’s the moment before people buy your product or service. Where once you would go to a place to do your “window shopping,” the window is now a screen in your hand or your lap. You shop a place before you ever shop there.

Google, the gargantuan online company, said to draw people to your website (then store, then checkout lane), you need mass media first. Google… said to buy ads on TV and radio. Tantalize the masses to prime the online machine.

Allow me to make this point deeper. Zillow,, Priceline, Warby Parker, Hulu and are online companies made for online shopping. They are only online. They are made of, and for, the internet. Log off, and they no longer exist. (Here’s where you’ll get dizzy) But, you more than likely heard of these companies via radio or TV. “H-O-T-W-I-R-E… Hotwire dot commmm.” “Wayfair you’ve got just what I need.” “Hoooome Advisor!”

Woah. These internet companies… for internet people… logged onto the internet… use mass media? Why not just use the internet? They’re already there. Because you can’t reach the masses by targeting online. Amazon’s recent Amazon Prime Day was promoted… with a radio campaign.

Pepsi and GM famously went “all-in” on Facebook. Then got the heck out when it didn’t work. Marc Pritchard, Proctor and Gamble’s Chief Marketing Officer, said, “We targeted too much, and we went too narrow.” Sales were stagnating until they “expanded… to include anyone over 18.”

Translation for non-marketing-nerds: They talked to the masses.

I am not against online advertising. It must be part of your marketing tool box. If your online efforts are broken, you just lost Google’s Zero Moment of Truth. Click. Gone. Your online house must be in order when the masses come.

But, getting the masses to come still requires the stimulus of mass media.

Johnny Molson

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