What is the future of advertising?

I hate advertising. I guess, if I’m completely honest, I hate irrelevant advertising like most people. Trouble is, I’ve yet to experience relevant advertising! I also don’t believe that advertising has affected my decision making process at any time. Last time we purchased a car I’d never seen a Kia advertisement: we had rented a Kia and it turned out a friend of a relative worked at a Kia dealership and could get us a decent deal.

I go out of my way to avoid advertising. In our last residence “TV” came off a PVR and ads were universally skipped. These days with TV coming from the Internet there are no ads in the downloads. The few times I’ve watched Hulu, the irrelevance of the ads was distractingly annoying.

The only sane way to surf the Internet is with ad blocking! I was recently categorizing the entries in my research database that involved loading pages directly in DEVONthink Pro, which claims to have ad blocking but nowhere near as good as the plug-in I use for Safari. After an hour or so it felt like my eyes were bleeding from the garish, flashing, irritating ads all over the place. It was a shocking realization of just how unappealing browsing without ad blocking was.

I am surprised, then, that the entire “new media” business seems predicated entirely on advertising support! (How many times do new business have to repeat the mistake of modeling themselves on their immediate predecessor – we know from history that the final model will never look like the preceding one.) This is within the context of at least one survey from Yankelovich Research that show 70% of Americans would pay to view content without advertising and go out of their way to avoid brands that “overly market their products and services”! Who wouldn’t after being barraged by up to 5,000 advertising messages a day!

But if there was no advertising how would we find out about products we wanted to buy – things that would be useful for our business. To which I would answer, the same way I do now: reading and research. Particularly searching on the Internet. Dave Winer nailed it:

The Internet is a wonderful commercial environment. It has trained me to expect the impossible from real-world retail. When I last visited Fry’s I wished I could hide all the items on the shelf that don’t match my search criteria.

Frys is intimidating and it has no search engine (in the store) making the online version much more satisfactory. In that same posting, one of his commentators – Hartsock – puts it this way:

“I look forward to the day when I can search like this: “pants waist:38in inseam:32in cargo” and find a listing of cargo pants that fit me and places I can go and buy them.”

In other words the information is being pulled by the customer when the customer is ready to buy. Not pushed at the customer thousands of times when they’re not ready to buy, which simply annoys and intrudes. As Dave puts it:

However this is not advertising! It is commercial information. The former is in our way, the latter is what we seek.

Advertising was useful in reaching mass markets with relative homogeneity – America in the 50’s when TV was new – but now there are few mass markets, tanking advertising spending and little advertising relevance. Now it’s time to realize that people seek commercial information that’s relevant, on their schedule and pace, not something pushed at them intrusively.

That’s exactly the same changes we’re seeing in media consumption: people want their programs, on their schedule on their device of choice. Advertising made sense for appointment television, but that’s dead!

In terms of our businesses perhaps it’s time to realize that being findable in search engine by having an active web presence is much more valuable than a big advertising budget.

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