Advertising RIP: Really the End of an Era?

There’s been enough talk about “The End of Advertising” and the rants that follow. This is NOT one of those about how advertising is broken, and here’s the solution du jour to fix it...Instead, I want to engage you in thinking about why advertising existed in the 1st place and why that paradigm may not ever be relevant again.

Just the fact that this is a blog post is already telling us that markets are the conversations like the Cluetrain so eloquently described. But what it doesn’t tell us is that not everyone is reading this and thus engaged in that conversation.

With connectivity comes an overabundance of choice. Today’s Internet enabled world requires more time and effort to share contextually relevant meaning for ourselves and between each other. At the same time, the capacity to give that time and effort is being spread thinner and thinner across an even wider choice of media engagement. Just think of how much time you spend each day managing eMail and news feeds or reading blogs and then actually get work done! Simultaneously every advertiser is competing for your attention during just about every activity you engage in.

Apart from the larger adverse effect of this on society, the immediate effect is on the effectiveness of advertising. Today, you skip past TV commercials with DVRs and block pop-ups and spam, and logically it is quite conceivable that we will also block other forms of advertising like Adwords and videobumpers or even bzzagents in the near future.

With more filters becoming available and more forms of advertising trying to sneak in the back door, is it any wonder people are getting a distaste and rampant mistrust of anything that remotely smells like a plug or bzz (as in bzzagent)?

My question is not what’s next in terms of another advertising model, but is "advertising" itself still a necessity? In other words, do we still need to persuade people who are increasingly getting better at persuading themselves and each other?

Along with all the instant communication the connection economy affords us, it has also divorced us from sharing a common context. To compensate we join social networks but still feel disconnected. We communicate more than ever but feel less and less understood as we slice our shared meanings thinner and thinner across an wider audience. Is it any wonder advertisers feel the same way? If we don’t feel like we’re connecting to anyone in a meaningful way, how will companies who’ve only engaged us in a relationship of convenience? Yes, if you think a relationship with a brand is anything more than that, you’re kidding yourself!

Today advertising is not really accountable beyond metrics based on criteria that is largely guesswork even though the numbers are real. Do you count clicks, impressions, shares, or placements? How do you know which is effective and for what reason? Even if something is effective, advertisers soon use that vehicle to integrate advertising and the credibility of the source suffers past its effectiveness. Just look at your TV newscasts. The spin is so overwhelming that it requires real work to sift the actual news from it.

This obviously creates an environment of mistrust from most media experiences. Primarily mistrust happens when someone tries to sneak advertising, product placement or spin in during our media experience. What if the media itself was advertising and didn’t pretend otherwise? In other words, what if the content was the entertainment/information/persuasion that you wanted to experience because it was something that was exactly and instantly meaningful to you?

We do have meaningful relationships with friends, family and even colleagues and we continue to cultivate them. They make recommendations to us and we follow through. We trust them within the context we share with them and we still build on that trust.

Guess what? They too are connected online and looking for meaning. So why is advertising still needed? Couldn’t the people we trust turn us on to the things that make meaning for us? Couldn’t advertisers leverage those relationships without corrupting the credibility of the source and have us benefit from such qualified introductions? Would it work with a commission structure? I’d venture to guess probably not. But would it work if the advertisers themselves shared a common context with your trusted sources? Will it still be called "advertising" if technically we are no longer trying to persuade potential customers, but rather connecting them to what they already chose to be persuaded by?

2 Responses to “Advertising RIP: Really the End of an Era?”

  1. # Anonymous Jonathan Trenn

    Maybe I'm missing something here.

    It's true. People, for the most part, don't like advertising. Two things have happened concurrently over the past 40 years. Individuals have become more self-oriented (for better and for worse) and we're all getting bombarded by advertising more than ever. So we're cynical.

    But advertising also tells us that a product, a service, a charity, restaurant, a political candidate, a (fill in the blank) exists. Often, when companies stop advertising, sales go down. Many types of advertising are now chances to start the conversation.

    Your last point, "Will it still be called "advertising" if technically we are no longer trying to persuade potential customers, but rather connecting them to what they already chose to be persuaded by?"

    HOw does one go about that? How does one get to know each and every potential customer to make that connection? And how then does the marketer than benefit if those that they connect fail to appreciate (which to me, in a self-oriented society could be quite common)?

    Shouldn't we be trying to do both?  

  2. # Blogger Ray Podder

    Thanks Jonathan for the comments. I agree that we should be trying to do both, but not necessarily the way we've done it 'till date. My point was that people persuade themselves based on their worldview and then they persuade each other based on shared context.

    But how do they get persuaded in the first place? Well, we can look at as a chicken and egg scenario and make the case for advertising, or make a case for "shared contexts" which includes advertising messages as part of the landscape. In other words, popular culture is a shared experience between many and it includes advertising messages interwoven into the fabric.

    My question here is that does it have to? What used to be considered "advertising" from other eras are still part of the common consciousness, but aren't necessarily influential. For example, ampitheaters. In the era of Google who never advertised directly to you, can we not see others follow suit?  

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