By David Waller

The way we live, interact and consume has changed dramatically with the shift towards internet and mobile telecommunications technology.

And yet large amounts of money are still regularly spent on traditional media, like television, radio, print, and outdoor.

If society and the associated media landscape have changed, why is traditional media still a major factor in a business’ ad spend?

In a new book that is getting some industry buzz, Z.E.R.O.: Zero Paid Media as the New Marketing Model, Joseph Jaffe and Maarten Albarda, have presented a new business model for companies in the future.

Jaffe and Albarda identify a coming “perfect storm” that will rock the media industry. Growing media costs, advertising clutter, consumer resistance/apathy and reduced viewers, they say, will hit an “increasingly digital, social, and connected world, powered by startups, content creation, and customer-centric ecosystems powered by technology”.

Controversially, they claim “In a perfect world, your paid media budget would be zero”. That is, companies would spend nothing on paid advertising. A world without advertising – surely it’s too good to be true?

What is Z.E.R.O?

The Z.E.R.O. model consists of four elements:

Zealots, such as a charismatic CEO, bloggers, enthusiastic fans and followers advocating new products and brands. Entrepreneurship to provide innovation and new technology, involving collaboration with startups. Retention to keep customers by improving customer service and enhancing the customer experience. Owned assets, where brands move from “being media dependent to media discerning” by using direct-to-consumer channels.

The three main types of advertising media are paid media (when a brand pays to buy space in a media channel), earned media (when the consumers become the media by talking about the brand – word of mouth), and owned media (like a website, Facebook or Twitter account).

By championing the brand to specific customers, being more innovative, and encouraging a greater use of the owned assets, the result will be an end to the use of paid media – easy, at least according to Z.E.R.O.

The book was partly crowd-funded, written by an ad agency executive and a senior marketer with companies like Coca-Cola and Anheuser Busch – with clever acronyms, entertaining stories – and an attention grabbing claim. I was very sceptical.

This is news that many advertisers would love to hear – there must be a catch. But some of what they say is not new.

Next year will be the 20th anniversary of an article The Death of Advertising, which claimed that “Mass media advertising as we know it today is on its deathbed, and its prognosis is poor”.

Certainly the marketing and media world has changed, and the industry must adapt to remain relevant. The media habits of people are different to what they were 20 years ago, and traditional media is falling in popularity.

So business must be aware and take advantage of digital media. The idea of moving from a tenant to a landlord when it comes to media is attractive, and there have been examples of business empowerment which has meant a lessening of dependence on traditional advertising agency services. And the reminder that business must be more customer-centric is vital when it comes to a company’s promotions.

Advertising aims to send a message to current and potential customers, so knowing your customer and appealing directly to them can be vital in stopping wastage, and being more efficient with the ad spend. That can mean less spent on paid media, and in some cases, bypassing it altogether.

Reality check

It is interesting Jaffe and Albarda’s main claim – “your paid media budget would be zero” – begins “in a perfect world”. This is not a perfect world.

And while it may seem strange for an academic to say this, the premise sounds nice in theory but what about in reality?

The reality can be very different depending on the size of the company, the product or service being offered, the length of time and awareness of the brand in the market, the strategy of the competitors and, of course, who the target market is.

The Z.E.R.O. framework can be helpful for some businesses, even if only to assess their current position. But new brands need to build awareness, which is something that paid media can do effectively.

Getting good word-of-mouth in the community and attracting people to your owned media is often the result of planned and co-ordinated paid media. No-one will be attracted to your website if they do not know that it exists.

The strategy of attracting fans who become “zealots”; using entrepreneurship, innovation and new technology; retaining customers by being more customer focused; and using owned assets to get the message out rather than depending on paid media, does not come free.

And being more “customer focused” does not mean that all attention should be placed on online media. Many people still watch TV, listen to radio, read newspapers, browse blog sites, and pass by outdoor advertising.

As one social media expert confided with me, you can spend a lot of effort on an online campaign and get a few hundred “likes” from people who will never buy your product, or put an ad on TV’s X-Factor and in 30 seconds 1.6 million people will see your brand.

Advertising is a multi-billion dollar industry. It is moving online, innovating with the kinds of packages it offers its clients, and working on new forms of metrics that can measure advertising effectiveness.

The book gives the examples of Red Bull, Nike, and Apple, yet I regularly see paid advertising by these companies. Z.E.R.O. has some good ideas, and now a bit of buzz. But the chance of zero paid media is zero.

David Waller is a senior lecturer, School of Marketing at University of Technology, Sydney.

This article first appeared at The Conversation.