Research, such as the research reported by Everett Rogers in Diffusion of Innovation, has shown that advertising works best on innovators and early adopters. It does not work as well on the early majority buyers. For majority buyers, interpersonal communications (word of mouth) from peers is the preferred mode of getting information. In fact, the same research shows that for all buyers as a whole, interpersonal communication has an effect on buying behavior that is over tenfold that of mass communication.
Furthermore, advertising works best in the awareness stage of the buying cycle. That is, if the buyer has the right predisposition to be informed by the ads. That occurs when the buyer has a need, or when some other change agent has approached the buyer about the possibilities first (i.e., expert in the press, colleague, etc.). If neither of those happen, then the buyer will not even hear or see the advertising – it will just be tuned out. In the preference stage, when the buyer starts forming an opinion about the product, most information comes from interpersonal communication. In the preference-forming stage, interpersonal communication may sometimes be substituted by expert commentaries and reviews.
Based on this, and stating the obvious, start ups who are peddling new product categories to innovators and early adopters should not waste their time and energy on brand advertising. Instead they should focus their efforts on lead generation and on influencing the influencers so that the right interpersonal conversations can get started.