Cars not camels: What PPC advertisers can learn from Blockbuster

Charlie Spargo's picture
Don't be the next Blockbuster

Matthew Soakell is the Senior PPC Trainer at specialist PPC management agency Mabo. He explains how PPC advertisers can stay ahead of the curve and avoid falling into complacent thinking, like a certain film rental company.

Mabo will speak and exhibit at the upcoming eCommerce Show North in March 2020 - part of Digital City Expo at Manchester Central. Find out more about the Expo and Digital City Festival week here.

The world of technology evolves rapidly.

If you don’t evolve with the times, you risk getting left behind. Worse still, fail to evolve and you dissolve. Woolworth’s, Borders and Blockbuster all spring to mind as companies who failed to make the switch to an updated digital framework where doing business is concerned.

You were probably aware of all of that, but the world of marketing and advertising also evolves rapidly. 

One of the most successful drama series of all time, Mad Men, is set in 1960s America, where advertising agencies - and workforces in general - were allowed to be sexist, hold traditional viewpoints about people’s roles in society and smoke in their offices. 

Matthew Soakell
Matthew (left) trains the Mabo PPC team

Despite being fictional, Sterling Cooper & Partners accurately represents what was at the time a modern way of working, which seems archaic and backwards now.

Fast forward to the 1990s and Guinness launched one of their most famous ads; the surfer ad with the horses.

Even though Guinness are famed for being one of the most successful beer brands in the world, they are evidence that social awareness and evolving with the times are key to staying relevant.

Recently, they launched their ‘Guinness Clear’ advertising campaign. “There's nothing better than spending time with your mates and enjoying the rugby,” it runs. “But too much of a good thing can mean you overdo it - and nobody wants that.” 

Some of you might say, “Boring - what’s a beer company doing telling people to drink water?”, but what it shows is social awareness, in an age where customers are becoming more aware of what they consume. 

And since you see a Guinness glass on screen for most of the ad, their brand awareness certainly isn’t taking a hit!

In 1983, £100,000,000 was spent on marketing to children - in 2006, it was £17,000,000,000. Granted, inflation plays a part in that growth, but the world of marketing also saw a huge evolution in how children are marketed to in just over 20 years.

This astronomical figure reiterates just how important it is to keep up with current trends, technologies and industry standards - something applicable to paid search, even if it means being prepared to spend more when your competitors are.

"Guinness are evidence that social awareness and evolving with the times are key"

How much has PPC advertising changed?

We can see just how many changes there have been to the standardised way of writing ad copy in Google Ads, even since 2016.

Within just a few years you can see the evolution of how ads look and are used within Google, from text ads in 2016, to ETAs in 2018, to RSAs in 2019.

But why stop there? Let’s think of video.

When I was finding my feet in this industry, very few of our clients were using video advertising as a way of bringing about new business and finding potential customers. Fast forward to 2019 and we have more clients than ever utilising YouTube advertising, making the most of the audience that is out there and willing to watch highly targeted videos.

Whether you look at the bigger picture of how businesses are run, or the more granular daily operations and workings of an organisation, it’s clear for all to see that adapting and evolving is essential to maintaining who you are and what you’re here to do.

"Experimenting with first-click attribution is just trying to make the camel go faster"

Different challenges exist for different marketers.

If you manage your company’s paid search internally, keep tabs on the latest features. Implement RSAs, DSAs, and contemplate using videos. Keep at the forefront of industry changes as best you can, and don’t be scared to innovate.

For those of you, on the other hand, who are involved with a paid search agency, get rid of the sentimental approach of many, who say “this is how it’s always been done.” 

Here’s an example - in his blog, entrepreneur Avinash Kaushik described how he witnessed the incredibly fast modernisation of Saudi Arabia. “From camels to cars. No bicycles. No steam engines… They were riding camels, then they were riding cars. Consider all the implications.” He likens this to the shift towards AI and automation - the challenge for agencies is staying ahead of the curve.

Someone experimenting with first-click attribution is just trying to make the camel go faster. If they’re using machine-learning data-driven powered attribution, they’re driving a car. Part of this evolution involves automating certain tasks - start with the mundane and boring ones that no one enjoys doing!

Don’t be the next Blockbuster

To tie this all together, the message is this.

When streaming services were first on the rise, the chiefs at Blockbuster naively and proudly claimed they weren’t concerned by this latest trend, because they knew people liked going in-store and browsing the videos and DVDs as it was a nice experience.

You know what’s also a nice experience? Ordering pizza online, finding a film on Netflix and not moving from your favourite chair.

Previously, families did enjoy going into Blockbuster and having a perusal at what was available, but things change. Everything is now instantly available. 

You have TV companies providing rent and buy options, you have streaming through Netflix, Amazon and iTunes. You have apps to order takeaway. Who even goes out and buys food or films anymore?

That industry as a whole has shifted.

Likewise, paid search has, is and will continue to do so, and anyone who isn’t pro-automation, pro-new creatives and has a closed-off mindset of traditionality, will be left behind.

The challenge therefore to those managing paid search - both internally and agencies alike - is to not be the next Blockbuster. Stay ahead of the curve, keep your mind open and be willing to have your methodology challenged. Drive cars, don’t ride camels.

Mabo - the Middlesbrough-based PPC agency - will be exhibiting at eCommerce Show North, part of Digital City Expo, on March 11th and 12th, 2020 - and will be speaking in the eCSN Masterclass Theatre. Join us at Manchester Central to meet them and other eCommerce leaders.

Learn more about the Expo and Festival at the launch event

Join us at the Manchester Chamber of Commerce on September 26th to get a first look.