For more than a century, advertising was an art, not a science. Hard data didn’t exist. An advertising guru of the Don Draper type proclaimed: "What you call love was invented by guys like me to sell nylons” – and advertisers could only hope it was true. You put your commercials on the air, you put your brand in the paper, and you started praying. Would anyone see the ad? Would anyone act on it? Nobody knew.
This is a worthwhile article but the above description is categorically unfair. The "Don Draper type" was David Ogilvy and not only did he learn marketing while practicing psychological warfare for the OSS, his actual quote was "The customer is not a moron, she's your wife."
Something lost in all these discussions about advertising is that the overwhelming effect of advertising is not action, it's awareness. You don't show a picture of a bottle of Coke because you want someone to drink a bottle of Coke right now you show a picture of a bottle of Coke because you want them to think of Coke the next time they're thirsty. Motorsports would not exist without advertising:
...does that sticker just inboard of the front tire make you want to run out and buy some 3M products? Could you run out and buy "3M products" even if you did? Or does it make more sense that 3M assumes that you like NASCAR, and if you're out looking to buy something and you happen to see something with a 3M logo on it, you'll subconsciously harken back to the mental image of this car and be ever-so-slightly nudged in the direction of the 3M product?
Which is not to say there isn't a bubble in online advertising. The fact of the matter is, the prices paid for traditional media were largely settled by decades of practice and experience. Yeah - a superbowl ad costs $3m. And companies that bought a superbowl ad saw a rise of X dollars over the course of the year. And NBC could point to 30 years of data as to what sort of ROI companies were experiencing with superbowl ads. Certainly - there were a lot of variables that couldn't be isolated and certainly - popularity does not equal success but at the macro level, everyone could point to a correlation between advertising and commercial success.
Online advertising promised metrics and those metrics are a lie, which is the basis of the article. But that doesn't mean that everyone who spends money on advertising is a moron. That banner you don't click in your peripheral vision is still in your subconscious enough for advertisers to hedge their bets. eBay might have been getting the same clicks from not advertising the word eBay... but if you buy an ad for the word "eBay" then "eBay" shows up on the screen twice and in the land of persistence and familiarity, just seeing the word twice conveys reassurance.
Proctor & Gamble has recently called bullshit on the online advertising industry. Unilever did the same thing last year. It's reasonable to argue that they don't think they're getting their money's worth but it's also reasonable to argue that they simply want to pay less and the acknowledgement that the metrics are bullshit is plenty enough leverage for that.
"You're fucking with the magic" is from Googled, which isn't a terrible book. But it also makes the point that Google is an engineering company first and an anything else company a distant second and that Google didn't know shit about advertising and attempted to overcome that through a bunch of maybe-applicable metrics and undercutting the everloving shit out of their competitors because they had no real costs. One thing is certain: in the 16 years since that meeting, advertising has been decimated. The average ad budget is barely ten percent what it was in 2000 and the agencies are graveyards. Advertising revenue is up but it's going solely to Google and Facebook.
And your awareness belongs to MyPillow.