Is Technology Making Traditional Advertising Obsolete?

Think for fifteen seconds and try to remember the last commercial you’ve seen on a television set. Can you remember it? No? Why is that? The reality is, most consumers are connected to their mobile devices a good portion of the day for business or personal entertainment purposes (Watson et al., 2013). Knowing this, can it be said that the advancement of mobile technology as a primary form of communication, glued to our hands, ears, or wrists, has negated traditional advertising’s ability to entice consumers to purchase a product or service?

Consider television. The ability to control what we are watching on services such as Hulu and Netflix WITHOUT commercial interruption on premium subscriptions is a popular choice for consumers leading busy lives where traditional programming hours are not convenient.

No commercials mean zero advertising. For those using streaming services instead of watching television have reduced their exposure to advertisements significantly, except of course for product placements in some of our favorite streamed shows…cue in House of Cards on Netflix, a scene where a government official slides his finger on an obvious Samsung tablet, transferring a map wirelessly onto the clearly visible Samsung television…the magic of sneaky advertising! (Check this scene out HERE)

Aside from that, traditional television marketing would otherwise stay nowhere to be found in streaming services.

Another aspect of television people forget is DVR devices. These allow consumers to record television to watch at a later time. The problem with these devices, for advertisers at least, is that end-users have the ability to ignore commercials by skipping them…this is in addition to the fact that ratings are not always accurate for programming since reporting is incomplete due to DVR devices…causing programs to be canceled prematurely…remember Arrested Development?

Consider radio. You might say advertisements remain the same, and yes they do, but do you recall the premium radio service called SiriusXM, offering music with no advertisement interruptions? Couple SiriusXM with Apple Music’s streaming radio service and that leaves consumers with several options to listen to music any time of day without a single advertisement. Think to yourself, when was the last time you heard a radio advertisement?

Over 50% of average American consumer use their smartphone at least occasionally to follow breaking news events, share pictures, or learn about community activities (A. Smith, 2015).  Essentially, people are often on their smartphones, not including other mobile devices like laptops and tablets, which leaves advertisers with the challenge of engaging consumers in these formats instead of traditional media.

While watching live television, what is the FIRST thing you do when a commercial comes on? Do you grab your phone and ignore the commercial? Distractions from mobile devices are ensuring that the dynamics of advertising are changing, but does this fact indicate a trend in traditional advertising methods becoming obsolete and mobile advertisements becoming the primary form of advertising? Is this necessarily a bad thing?

Firms are now having to fight for marketing real estate in several platforms in order to achieve the greatest amount of exposure. Creativity in advertising must be used in order to grab the attention of consumers that are now more distracted and busier than ever.


Watson, C., McCarthy, J., & Rowley, J. (2013). Consumer attitudes towards mobile marketing in the smart phone era. International Journal of Information Management, 33(5), 840. doi:10.1016/j.ijinfomgt.2013.06.004 0

Smith, A. (2015). U.S Smartphone Use in 2015, Pew Research Center, Retrieved from

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8 Responses to Is Technology Making Traditional Advertising Obsolete?

  1. Jim Tanner says:

    You make a great point with this post, and it’s certainly changing the nature of advertising strategies across platforms.

    In my opinion, that’s why you see a lot of shorter TV ads in more like the 15-second range. Shorter spots serve two purposes. First, they are shorter and thus have a better chance of being seen at some point in something close to their entirety. Secondly, these spots are more shareable on social media if you and advertiser can do something creative that gets picked up as funny, inspirational, or “cool” for customers or brand advocates to share. Even in traditional spots, the pressure is on the marketing team to create advertising that can penetrate viewers who are less likely to passively sit through a commercial block. It’s a major challenge, but it can wind up forcing advertisers to create better ad content.

    The one aspect where the traditional ad remains somewhat safe (at least for now) is in sports. Most sports fans like to watch sports live, thus the ability to DVR and fast forward through the ads is less likely. This applies to radio as well, and even in satellite radio there are ads during breaks in play (time outs, halftime, etc.). There is always the danger of channel-flipping during commercials in sporting events, but that risk has been around for decades now. Certainly cord-cutting is changing a lot of the way advertising is consumed even in sports, but the prevalence of live viewership and the built in breaks in sporting events gives certain advertisers some small window to capture viewers for advertising.

    Very insightful post. Thanks!
    Jim Tanner

    • Faith says:

      Hi Steve,
      Loved your insight on the new age of advertisement and the challenges traditional advertisements are facing on persuading consumers to buy. I must admit I haven’t had cable in years, I cut that off years ago when I realized I only watched four channels religiously. In my mind I thought, why am I wasting hundreds of a dollar a month on buying channels I don’t even watch. I have Hulu, Netflix, HBO Now, and Starz as my go to apps on my phone and iPad to watch my favorite shows. As you mentioned, my exposure to commercials has been very limited now. I loved Brandon Rochon’s lecture on our recent live session because he really hit on how advertisers have had to become very creative with getting their messages across. No longer can they ‘interrupt’ our viewing pleasures, but must find ways to integrate their products. Hence the example you provided on House of Cards with product placement. I know on Hulu you can choose the commercial experience you want with just a click. You also can watch a minute and half commercial and have uninterrupted viewing for the rest of your show. If an ad is irrelevant to you, you can mark it as such and it will not show anymore. These are ways advertisers are becoming creative and getting around the many road blocks mobile viewing has caused. You even brought up the radio! Wow…you are absolutely right. I will say I have an old school car that doesn’t have the fancy aux to plug in my phone to play my Apple Music, so I do listen to radio commercials. I actually love listening to the radio and commercials because it gives me a sense of nostalgia. My friends hate traveling with me….but I do tolerate the radio ads more than TV ones. In the end, advertisers are just having to find ways to include it in the tv show or have the potential to lose consumers if they choose to interrupt their lives.


  2. Araz says:

    Great post! It is true, I believe this up and coming generation is oblivious to commercial real estate. Based on my own viewing habits, I can attest that the Netflix generation is not going anywhere. In a fast-paced society, it seems it’s getting harder and harder to grasp consumers attention. Not only are media platforms relying on social platforms, but also the plethora of media avenues seem abundant. This change in consumer viewing has definitely changed the way marketers create their marketing plans. I am interested to see what’s next? Thank you for your post.

  3. Krystina says:

    Hi Steve,

    As a cord-cutter who thought they were getting away from advertising, I’ve noticed that it’s still there, just much quieter. For instance, when I watch Netflix I find that there is an obscene amount of cigarettes in every other scene of certain shows, to the point that I decided to do a little research and found that there are articles dedicated to the prevalence of smoking in Netflix shows. So the advertising is definitely still there, the difference it is not apart of the show like we’re in the age of Mad Men again.

  4. Barbara says:

    I think this is why there is a rise in product placement and in-entertainment advertising. Script writers are busy putting brands into story lines. Prop people give priority to paying advertisers for project placement. We are now being marketed to with paid product reviews on YouTube. And yes, they are disclosed. But still, advertising is working its way into events, programs (radio and television), and even into novels. Advertisers have to change to keep up with how advertising is being consumed and the 30-second spot is not as powerful as it once was. Now, 30-second spots are stories – like Denny’s animated series on The Grand Slams and the adventures of their breakfast food. It’s all changing. Sorry Don Draper.

  5. Mitchell says:

    Agreed! Traditional advertising is obsolete and gone. Advertising has diminished to six seconds of forced viewing before the YouTube video begins and there are complaints about that. But advertising will continue to influence us, just differently. In todays world of marketing, advertisements are no longer interrupters. Instead, effective campaigns are part of the social conversation. Brands can and have launched campaigns that wrap themselves up in various social agendas which can and have backfired. Think Jenner and Pepsi. These conversations require consumers to continue to watch, just to understand what is trending as well as take place in the conversation. Remember transactive memory theory (or collective memory) teaching us how things operate based on everyone’s experiences. Being able to become part of the conversation means having an understanding of what that conversation is in the first place. We pay attention so we can remain relevant.

  6. Erika Najera says:

    This was great insight to share, Steve! I believe technology is making traditional marketing less noticed and a less popular choice for advertising, but I don’t know if I believe it will become obsolete. I think of other traditional marketing forms like billboards, signs, flyers, and can’t imagine iconic cities like NYC without it. While traditional marketing may become less popular, I still believe there is a strong sense of tradition that is here to stay.

  7. Elia Sanchez says:

    The argument you make about digital taking over TV advertising dollars was confirmed by Ad Age earlier this year in April, with mobile accounting four 51% to total revenue. Not only is the digital revolution impacting traditional TV outlets, it is also affecting traditional radio outlets. In 2016, digital radio accounted for $1.1 billion in revenue. With such trends, the question in my mind is, at which point will traditional TV outlets opt for more digital content and move away from scripted and/or reality TV programming?