I'm going to have some fun today and, hopefully, stir up a bit of controversy. Fellow Online Spin writer Joe Marchese wrote a provoking column on Tuesday entitled "Advertising is NOT Content." In his column, Joe charges that advertisers, marketers and agencies are too one-dimensional in their obsession with making ads that people like. Rather, he suggests that they would be better served to recognize that media consumers don't really like ads -- advertising is NOT content.
Joe argues that industry folks should recognize that in this "attention economy" age they would be better served spending their time developing new business models where people could pay to avoid ads, rather than making them more attractive. While I generally love Joe's columns, I absolutely disagree. Joe's advice here is the worst advice the industry could follow. Here is why:
Advertising IS content, and is valued when done well. Ads and the information they contain or the emotions that they evoke are just as much a part of media communications as any editorial content. In fact, the media industry is rife with examples of media products where consumers value the ad content as much as they value the edit. Many Sunday newspapers are bought for the slick coupons, classifieds and department store promotions. Readers of glossy magazines from Vogue to Skiing to Brides will tell you they look at the ads first and foremost. What would yellow pages be without the ads? What about Super Bowl ads?
Consumers these days aren't looking for more ways to pay for something that they get for free. I come from a small coal town in western Pennsylvania that, like much of the rust belt, isn't going to come out of this recession any time soon. Folks in Clearfield, Pa., like most of America, aren't spending much time these days looking for ways to pay bigger cable or satellite or Internet bills. In fact, they are looking for ways to pay less. We should be looking for ways to give folks "more for less," not "the same for more."
Don't give up dreams of creating better advertising. When you ask consumers what they find annoying about ads, their biggest issues are typically irrelevance and overload. We need to make ads and all commercial communication better and more relevant. They should deliver self-evident value. Consumers should not want to avoid ads, but should embrace them. Consumers should not want to skip ads, but instead want to save them. Crazy, you say? Absolutely not.
I believe that the future of media will be about delivering content -- including advertising -- that people want and value. I don't believe that the future is about creating structures for "ad avoidance fees." The best ways to deal with an annoying ad is to kill it at birth, not to pay people to have to endure it. What do you think?