Once upon a time, advertising on TV was the best way to guarantee big success for your brand. It was expensive, but you could reach millions of potential customers in 30 seconds, with a powerfully persuasive message. The aura of the tube was such that any brand seen on TV gained instant cachet as a market leader.

Those days are gone: for one thing, alternatives such as the web compete for attention, and for another, people don’t watch TV like they used to. They watch cable or satellite “on demand.” They record programs and skip the commercials. They click on streaming web videos. They buy their favorite shows on DVD.

As TV has become more fractured, it has followed the trend in magazines toward niche audiences, allowing brands to focus on more specific groups of viewers. TV advertising—whether the classic 30-second spot or the 30-minute infomercial—is certainly not about to disappear.


There is something at once appalling and appealing about a large billboard. The billboard is a primitive medium, passive and indiscriminate, and yet these gigantic posters, aspiring on some level to public art, a space-age legacy of ancient cave paintings, inevitably inspire awe and command our attention. The cleverest billboards take into account the context of their placement. Whether in a London tube station or on a Californian freeway, they can make sly inferences about the people looking at them, and say something knowing about how the brands they hawk can fit into the lifestyles of their viewers.

Direct mail

Ever since David Ogilvy proved the efficacy of direct mail, with penny postcards advertising a local hotel, our mailboxes (and more recently our e-mail inboxes) have been flooded with junk mail. Direct mail takes advantage of the fact that most of us still think of our mailboxes as a personal space through which our friends and families communicate with us. We tend to be receptive to any message arriving there. Mailers and spammers consider even tiny response rates successful.

Perhaps surprisingly, direct mail will work for almost any brand. Although most “junk mail” is perceived as common, if the item being mailed is fancy enough, and sent to the right people, it can succeed at selling luxury items. Some direct-mail pieces are elaborate and expensive, and very effective.