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Digital marketing isn't all it's made out to be

Dominance of digital marketing is a key cause of societal decline and demise of quality

In the Internet age where everything from mobile phones to music is apparently free, and people follow trends more than ever before, the discussion has taken a perverse turn with "quantity" clearly in the ascendant for advertisers and brand purveyors despite the lip service to quality, luxury, and "carefully curated" this, that and the other.

What this really means is that in the rush for numbers, brand messages are being served to the wrong audiences.

Many companies have seemingly dispensed with or forgotten about the importance of their brands, favouring bookings and clicks, something repellent to discerning travellers.

Maximising numbers can backfire. The success of Louis Vuitton (LV) in Hong Kong and Macau with vast purchases by overseas visitors resulted in such a fashion glut that Hong Kongers began shunning LV items that were perceived as devalued with overexposure and burgeoning availability.

This cheapened the product.

Perceived value is based as much on scarcity as on demand.

The increasing dominance of digital marketing and its obsession with statistics and sales (over brand value) is a key cause of societal decline and the demise of quality as the world has understood it for millennia.

Google and Facebook have vacuumed up the lion's share of digital advertising, estimated at 70 per cent to 80 per cent. Brands like Adidas are abandoning television to focus entirely on the Web.

The Internet that once claimed to be expanding information horizons and democratic choice for all and revolutionising human engagement, has in fact perverted economics, transformed naturally gregarious kids into anti-social mobile phone zombies, and spilled its 4.5-billion page content like slop on the floor, flooding the market, with no way to separate the lobster from the leaves.

Digital marketing largely depends on young recruits.

Many of these millennials have not consumed the very luxury brands - such as cars andhotels - they must promote.

Glitter sells. It is easier to plump for a gleaming Rolls-Royce with no engine than a humble Nissan with a trusty workhorse engine.

With Facebook and Google, the dominance of quantity over quality has become absolute.

This is eliminating excellent communication channels and giving rise to a mediocracy.

TRAVEL

Nowhere is this more apparent than in travel, where search results are dominated by booking engines and online travel agents who have muscled out brands and what they represent.

And with falling product awareness has come a lowering of rates because customers will not pay for something they do not fully comprehend or value.

In a recent reader poll by Smart Travel Asia, the "biggest obstacle to travel" was not a lack of retail options but "too much emphasis on booking and not enough on product insights".

The second biggest hurdle was "fake or paid reviews". Advertisements that stalk readers are another big peeve.

Whatever countries you pick for your "targeted" promotion, Facebook tends to serve the ones that offer the highest response.

Indonesia has a vast and responsive Facebook community, with teen bloggers who claim millions of followers despite not having lived long enough to have convincingly acquired them.

Advertisers follow them - and their imaginary cohorts - at their peril.

As "click farms" get into the act, paying bored housewives and students to earn money by visiting websites and clicking on advertising, fake clicks and fake traffic have emerged as hidden icebergs waiting to sink the biggest advertising behemoths.

The writer is the editor of the online magazine, SmartTravelAsia.com. A version of this article appeared in The Business Times yesterday.

BUSINESS & FINANCE