I was in the middle of reading the ever-thoughtful Tessa Wegert's column on sponsore d tweets when I again suffered a momentary case of advertising fatigue. Given that most who read this column are somehow connected to advertising -- and everybody is in one way or another a target of someone's advertising -- I think it is perfectly normal to occasionally be crushed by the weight of its absurdity. Fear not, this is not another sophomoric rant on the evils of rampant commercialism ignited by advertising, or a claim that it has no impact on my buying decisions. I know it does.
I think most American consumers don't really spend too much time thinking about advertising except when the seemingly endless pods interrupt their prime-time shows or something grabs their attention in the press (like the Atlantic/Scientology dust-up, or the perennial finding that ads for sugary foods are intentionally aimed at kids -- duh -- or the annual hyperbole around $4 million, 30-second Super Bowl spots). But I spend most of my day either reading about advertising or helping my clients get more -- or serve more -- of it.
It often seems as if the ad industry has no restraint. If it could, it would put ads everywhere that allege to attract eyeballs, from the sides of trucks to the shoulders of prizefighters, from stencils on sidewalks to tiny little display ads impossible to read on your smartphone. Estimates vary from 245 to 3,000 ad exposures a day per person (although it is reasonable to assume we take no notice of most of it). The visual clutter becomes apparent when you visit European hamlets that allow no place-based public advertising and are refreshed by its absence. (Nor are you consuming much media on such a trip, since most of it is in a language you don't speak, providing yet another breather.)
It’s interesting to ponder the efforts that go into trying to push advertising into every conceivable form of communications: TV, print, radio, online, mobile, tablets and every platform within those media, from social to search from display to video -- and within those, ways to try and grab the attention of the user, from behavioral targeting, semantic targeting, contextual targeting, image targeting, to pop-ups and interstitials from screen bugs to scented pages, from "native" adverting to sponsored content (if those are not simply one and the same). And as if in some Alice in Wonderland parable, there are the efforts within each of those to squeeze out the nth degree of efficiency, such as DSPs, SSPs, real-time collection and deployment of data, and optimization of everything from response to creative to conversion. Not to mention the imponderables such as "likes," attribution, viral, and "engagement."
At times it seems as if the pursuit of the elusive right-ad, right-person, right-time is a programmatic goal itself oblivious to the fundamental mission of helping consumers make a more informed purchase decision. One supposes all this down-the-rabbit-hole activity will somehow make advertising more accountable and thus more efficient, so that in the utopian world of tomorrow, each of us would only see ads for what we are in market for at the moment, or ads would introduce us to a new brand or product that our geographical/physiological/navigational/media use data profile assures marketers we will like.
But it’s unlikely that all the rest of advertising that is NOT perfectly targeted to us will disappear. And if not, what systems will be in place to assure we don't see it? Will Times Square start looking like the town centers of Alsfeld or Chioggia? Will ABC start looking like HBO?
I am not overlooking the value exchange between "free content" (although with cable, broadband and mobile data costs ever creeping up, nothing is really free) and advertising. But I must say, from time to time it all seems exhaustingly overarching.
And the Super Bowl hype is JUST starting.