Advertising Is NOT Content

With apologies to soap operas, advertising is not content. How can I be so sure of this? Because given the choice, a vast majority of consumers would prefer to consume actual content without advertising. Yes, even the really good advertising like Super Bowl commercials. And as I wrote last week, advertising is becoming a consumer choice. The sheer fact that people are willing to pay for content without advertising, content they could have gotten for free with advertising, should put what advertising really is into perspective.

I am not saying that advertising is bad (I should hope it isn't, since it's how I make a living), but I am saying that marketers and agencies who can't see past the "create advertising that people will flock to" hype are in trouble in the new attention economy.

Advertising is a value exchange between people and marketers. Any good marketer should be able to put themselves into their consumers' shoes -- and once in those shoes, should be able to answer the question "What is my time worth?"



Framing the media-buying process in this way will really help, as consumers are increasingly able to opt out of advertising using their wallets. Here's an example: On a $10 CPM basis, a single 30-second pre-roll is being valued at one penny. The question marketers have to ask is, would their consumers, given the option, give a penny to avoid the advertising?

Well I would think just about everybody would, considering at a rate of one penny for every 30 seconds, I would have to value my time at less than $1.20 per hour. This is what I meant when I wrote last week that consumers can actually bid against marketers for their own attention.

You'll notice that in my calculation I don't place any weight on if the advertising is "good" or "bad," because that's subjective -- and largely irrelevant, since no matter how good advertising is, people would prefer their content without interruption.

The marketers, media buyers and publishers that figure out how to properly exchange value with consumers in the new attention economy will be the only ones who can actually succeed with advertising going forward.

Lots to disagree with here, so feel free to tell me I am wrong on Twitter at  -- and/or leave a comment on the Spin Board.

13 comments about "Advertising Is NOT Content".
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  1. David Carlick from Carlick, September 21, 2010 at 1:59 p.m.

    An area of long interest to me.

    Would a SERP for a plumber be good without ads? Or are they content? Would you want Vogue or Sunset Magazine without the ads? Or are they part of the content, too? Ogilvy said the worst thing advertisers can do is try to make their ads look like ads, instead of like content.

    You are right about the changes coming in the attention economy. In that case, relevance (which is so easy with search or special interests) triumphs.

    I am on record that people would rather pay for a lot of content rather than submit to inane, interruptive pre-rolls or page takeovers.

  2. Greg Alvarez from iMeil, September 21, 2010 at 2:05 p.m.

    Times are changin... branding today is not like the branding we used to play based on ads.

    It all comes to "value" --be it educating, helping or teaching onto some thing-- to make engagement ignite.

    The cost is not important, it could be as cheap as a bubble gum or expensive as the current sport Bentley model. If you don't offer value, forget you are creating branding.

  3. Mike Azzara from Content Marketing Partners, September 21, 2010 at 2:16 p.m.

    Actually, the relationship I have with advertising on TV, thanks to my TiVo, is ideal as far as I'm concerned. I sail past 95-99% of it; yet I stop and go back deliberately to watch certain ads, for products I'm interested in (usually cars or computers), brands that create real entertainment, or both. I would agree with the headline if not for the iPad. Just as the iPad is a revolutionary device, iPad commercials actually are content. Not deep explanatory content, but content nonetheless.

  4. Roger Toennis from Liquid Media LLC, September 21, 2010 at 2:31 p.m.

    The solution is to provide a personalized mechanism for each consumer that pre-processes all the advertising that would hit that consumer psuedo-randomly and mold that advertising raw material into something that is personalized enough that the consumer is interested in paying attention to. But guessing what that is doesn't work. Consumer's have to be allowed to specifically say what they want. NO ONE IS OFFERING THAT SERVICE!!!

    Marketers and advertisers have for decades been trying to design ways to guess what consumer's want based on demographics, prior purchases and now physical location. None of it will work in the context of the info overload we all live in now.

    The solution is to allow consumer's to fully "self-target" what they want in exchange for total control and total privacy.

    I would rather have a 100% anonymous consumer specifically telling me what he/she wants, when he/she wants it and how often he/she wants to hear about it and HOW he/she wants to hear about it than know all that person's personal details and history and try and guess what he/she wants next.

    20th century "guess marketing" is DEAD. Its just that the carcass is still warm and marketers who don't want their skillset to go irrelevant are trying to "shock it's heart" back to life.

    Not gonna happen.

    Consumer control is the future of effective B2C relationships.

  5. Aarona Jordan from Channel One/Alloy, September 21, 2010 at 2:34 p.m.

    An insightful reminder that effective placement is paramount in the new "attention economy" seek
    LOW-CLUTTER, HIGH engagement-Channel One News

  6. Jonathan Graber from Three Pillars Recruiting, September 21, 2010 at 2:37 p.m.

    I agree and disagree.

    I agree that many people are going towards an "opt-out" model. I also agree that the "create advertising that people will flock to" hype isn't a good advertising model.

    However, I will take a page out of David's comments (above). Advertising can be content and I think works better when it is. There are many companies in the digital space that have picked up on this notion (especially within the social media space) and are creating unbelievable non-CPM/CPC etc. based campaigns that are ORGANIC branded content.

    For example, there is a company like Brickfish who has done some amazing campaigns for Coach, Nieman Marcus, Kenneth Cole etc. (Take a look at their site.) They make the actual social media conversation (read: organic content) one big advertisement with user engagements. Amazing.

    As much as the world is moving to an "opt-in" advertising model, the world is also moving to a CPE model (Cost Per Engagement). THIS, in my opinion, is what agencies and brands should be looking for. Advertisements CAN be content - it's a matter or the execution.

  7. Jack Smith, September 21, 2010 at 3:26 p.m.

    We've been living in the attention economy since the advent of cable television. Ironically, TV (and TV advertising) have been the slowest to respond to the scarcity of attention because they're trying with all their might *not* to respond. It's a closed world with carriage fees, flawed measurement and it's still purchased irrationally. Many people in that world would like to maintain the status quo.

    To paraphrase Umair Haque by way of Herbert Simon, the only sustainable businesses in advertising today are created around tools which efficiently allocate attention. As you rightly point out, advertising is a value exchange between marketers and consumers. The most effective tools to allocate attention measure value for both the consumer and the advertiser with the importance being placed on the value for the consumer.

    The interesting thing to me is that in digital environments consumers tell us when they are willing to trade their attention for an advertising message. When I enter a query into a search engine, I'm asking for information. The engine responds with a list of links, some of which are paid for. The fact that some of the links are paid is irrelevant if the engine tips the value scale toward me. In other words if AdWords ads provide a paid link to the information I am seeking and that link is relevant to the the task I'm performing and congruent with my expectations when I started searching in the first place, then I'm getting value. My attention is captured (and valued) by the engine in the form of a click and valued separately downstream by the marketer in the form of a CPA.

    Advertising in social media will develop in a similar way. It has to. The sensitivity to spam - i.e. irrelevant information - is much higher for consumers in social contexts than on the web generally, and certainly for those watching TV.

    I net this out to be a good thing. Consumers have a higher expectation that marketers must be sensitive the signals that they're giving off and must respond or not respond accordingly. And this expectation will be what drags television advertising kicking and screaming into the digital age.

  8. John Fredette from Alcatel-Lucent, September 21, 2010 at 5:50 p.m.

    I used to work in the "shopping guide" industry. That is about as basic as advertising can get, nothing but classified and (mostly) one color display ads. Our readers were looking for something and we provided potential access to what they were looking for. When an advertisement offers an audience member useful information it is news, when it is irrelevant to their needs it is spam.

    Too much advertising on TV is not relevant enough so people feel no compunction about skipping over it.

    Personally I look forward to a time when the advertising I see is based upon sophisticated opt-in subscriber data analytics. Advertisers of the near-term future: track my purchases please. And my travel and where I eat and the books I read. Know me as well as I know myself. Then never send me an advertisement for something I don't care about. I'll even watch a batch of commericals if I get to see shows I want to watch in exchange.

  9. Jeff Rosen from Gulp Media, September 21, 2010 at 7:37 p.m.

    Joe -

    As you recently posted, I think it's more a matter of allowing the user to "outbid" the advertiser. The question simply comes down to...

    Consumers are willing to pay for some content, but not all. But which content and how much?

    Each demand for media is unique, not only as it relates to the marketing value of an audience member, but how important the need for "uninterrupted" or ownership is to the viewer. As the creator of a content consumption solution, it's what I think about every day.

    Keep pissing people off. I love it.

  10. Mike Mcgrath from RealXstream PTY LTD, September 22, 2010 at 3:05 a.m.

    Doen right, content can and ad can truly become one. Example: RedBull AirRace (Or any other RedBull marketing for that matter).

  11. Rick Clancy from Covario, Inc., September 22, 2010 at 11:55 a.m.

    Right on Joe!

    That said, I love it when I'm surprised by an ad that's clever and makes me laugh. Then, it trickles into the content category, but still wouldn't seek it out.

  12. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, September 22, 2010 at 9:58 p.m.

    Advertising works best with low choice and forced viewing. Outdoor and other out-of-home ads still work. Sponsorships and sports signage still work. But thanks to TiVo and internet ad-blockers, people can avoid ads that attempt to interrupt or distract content. And because of all the competition, there will likely be some newcomer willing to give away free content to thwart the paywalls.

  13. Adam Conduit from Conduit, September 24, 2010 at 5:25 p.m.

    Hats off to Joe and Dave, for it often takes a good debate to inspire great thinking. I find it hard to take sides. Certainly both posts offer smart perspectives on what is valuable in consumers’ eyes. From the “Conduit perspective” content optimization should be front and center for every marketer. In my humble opinion, advertising can OR cannot be content. The goal should be to match the intention with the result.

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