Something Jeff Jarvis and I Agree On

Recently I had a bit of a spat with Jeff Jarvis over how he characterizes Google’s transparency. Jarvis has positioned himself as the standard-bearer for all things Googley and I’ve taken on the un-Googley task of championing exploratory search, so it’s not surprise that we often find ourselves disagreeing.

But, in the same Steve Rubel interview I cited in my previous post, Jarvis said something I agree with completely, and I’d like to take the opportunity to quote it here:

Advertising is failure.

If you have a great product or service customers sell for you and a great relationship with those customers, you don’t need to advertise.

OK, that’s going too far. There is still a need to advertise — because customers don’t know about your product or a change in it or because, in the case of Apple, you want to add a gloss to the product and its customers. But in the book, I suggest that marketers should imagine stopping all advertising and then ask where they would spend their first dollar.

In an age when competition and pricing are opened up online and when your product is your ad, you need to spend your first dollar on the quality of your product or service. If you’re Zappos, you spend the next dollar on customer service and call that marketing. If the next dollar goes to advertising, there has to be a reason — and if the product is good enough, that reason may fade away.

Those are strong words, especially considering that they also appeared in Advertising Age. And they ring true. In fact, they complement my argument that advertising isn’t search. Of course there’s a need to make prospective customers aware that your product or service exists. But if you should be investing the lion’s share of money, time, and effort into making the product worth buying, rather than in persuading people to buy it. I realize that’s about as idealistic as “if you build it, they will come“, but that ideal is increasingly achievable in a world where information travels at the speed of Twitter.

Yes, I am well aware of the irony that Google’s business depends almost entirely on advertising, and that Jarvis has just made a case that advertising should be much less important. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and hope that he is with me in aspiring towards a world–and a Google–where advertising is not the foundation for information access.

By Daniel Tunkelang

High-Class Consultant.

4 replies on “Something Jeff Jarvis and I Agree On”

I agree completely. It is a great irony that Google, without significant advertising of its own, has succeeded in becoming one of the world’s biggest advertising companies. It makes me wonder what would happen if their clients could emulate that success and no longer depend so heavily on advertising themselves. What would Google do?


To a large extent I think that’s what Facebook has done. They have huge usage, and they don’t rely on Google to bring them traffic. They are just exceptional at elegantly organizing information about what your friends are up to, and that lets them skip the whole Google ecosystem.


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