What do you want, blood?

George Washington had been the first president of the USA. In 1799, he woke up at 2am with an inflamed throat. At 7.30am, Dr James Craik arrived.

He’d been Washington’s doctor for 40 years.

He knew exactly the treatment for an inflamed throat.

It was the same as the treatment for fever, consumption or madness.

He immediately applied leeches and drained 14oz of blood from Washington.

Two hours later the symptoms, and the pain, were worse.

Another doctor, Elisha Dick, arrived.

At 9.30am they applied more leeches and drained another 18oz of blood.

But the symptoms grew worse.

A third doctor, Gustavus Brown, arrived.

He diagnosed quinsy and severe tonsillitis, and prescribed more bleeding.

And at 11am more leeches were applied and another 18oz of blood drained.

But Washington’s symptoms still got worse.

It needed an emergency procedure to save his life.

The very best medical minds in the country were in attendance, and they chose to use the full extent of measures known to them.

Over the next few hours they applied more and more leeches, and drained another 32oz of blood from him.

All told, since the doctors arrived, they had drained more than 80oz of blood from Washington.

That’s about five pints (2.36 litres), roughly half his body’s total supply.

So the best medical minds available had extracted blood.

When it didn’t work, they had doubled down on their treatment.

And when that didn’t work they had doubled down again.

And as a result of their treatment, at 10pm that night, Washington died.

After his death, Dr Craik admitted their treatment might possibly have been flawed.

He said: "If we had taken no more blood from him, our good friend might have been alive now."

Which is very similar to the position we find ourselves in with digital media.

Media gurus told us it was the answer to everything and the end of all other advertising.

They had their clients put a lot of money into it, but it didn’t work.

So media gurus told clients to put more money into it, but it still didn’t work.

And the media gurus’ answer was for clients to put even more money into it.

Then, when all the money was gone and it hadn’t worked, the media gurus did what Washington’s doctors did.

They admitted they might have been slightly wrong after all.

AdContrarian is scrupulous about collecting facts.

For instance, 50% of online display ads are unviewable (Wall Street Journal).

The rate of engagement among brand fans on Facebook is seven in 10,000.

One viewer in every 1,000 clicks on a banner ad and only 38% of web traffic is human.

Adults spend more time watching TV than all other leisure activities combined (US Bureau of Labor Statistics).

You would have thought facts like these would have made media gurus more cautious about digital media. 

But, like Washington’s doctors, it seems they’ve got only one solution.

Remember the old saying "When the only tool you’ve got is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail"?

It seems media gurus have only got a hammer, but they think it’s a Swiss Army knife. 

Dave Trott is the author of Creative Mischief, Predatory Thinking and One Plus One Equals Three.

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