Bob Hoffman:

Sadly in the field of advertising and marketing, experts are not usually hatched based on their record of producing reliable results, but on their ability to attract attention. Consequently we should be highly dubious of their “expertise.” But we’re not. Because as Kahneman also says, “a reliable way to make people believe in falsehoods is frequent repetition.”

One of the most frequently repeated and, in my opinion, highly dubious tropes in our industry these days is the idea that the paragon of media strategy is “mass one-to-one” communication. In non-jargonista terms, this means reaching large numbers with individualized messages.

You would expect that this assertion would be met with skepticism. For one thing, there is no record of “mass one-to-one” communication achieving anything. You might argue that no one has yet been able to engineer “mass one-to-one” and that is why there is no record. Which is exactly my point. Shouldn’t we exercise a little skepticism about a theory for which there are no examples?


First, I believe brands are far more likely to achieve big success if they are well-known. Public media (broad based media) make you well-known. Private media (one-to-one) don’t. Perhaps the best argument for this can be found outside the advertising industry. As many have noted, in their early stages Google, Facebook, and Amazon were brands that became successful without advertising. How did they become successful? One component was that news media fell in love with them and gave them zillions in free coverage. These companies became well-known without advertising, and being well-known helped them grow. The rules of probability don’t just apply to advertising, they apply across the board.

Second, I believe people are more likely to accept the legitimacy of brands that advertise in public than brands that advertise in private

Third, except for sociopaths, we all (secretly) want to fit in. Understanding what products fit with our peer culture is part of fitting in. This is why goths wear black and golfers wear plaid. Consequently, we are more likely to buy a brand about which everyone in our group knows what the brand stands for. Public media provide the framework to believe that your group has the same understanding of what the brand is about as you do. Private media do not. When advertising is customized for individuals, we have no idea if others know what we know.