The Nature Of Advertising Heralds Its Own Implosion

Long-time readers of this column may recall I run TEDxChristchurch, an annual event which is barreling down on me for next Saturday. I am neck-deep in speaker rehearsals, volunteer briefings, name tags and goody bags. I am also neck-deep in ideas. As one of our speaker coaches so eloquently put it, sometimes I feel like my brain is leaking out of my ears.

One of our speakers in particular has that effect: Jenni Adams, an astroparticlephysicist who is studying extra-galactic neutrinos as part of the Ice Cube project in Antarctica. These elementary particles have no charge, and as a result see the universe as mostly empty space, hurtling through stars, planets, and people as if they were nothing, exerting no gravitational pull and immune to the gravitational pull of the objects it passes.

The astronomical opposite to a neutrino, I imagine, would be a black hole: an object so dense that nothing, not even light, can escape its gravity. A black hole feeds itself; anything that gets just a little too close falls into it, thereby increasing the hole’s mass and making it even stronger. Each successive object would have to be even larger and farther away in order to resist.



Kind of like advertising.

They say prostitution is the oldest profession, but I have my doubts. Advertising has been around pretty much as long as any form of commerce has. It has been used for activities both savory and unsavory, to raise awareness of useful and life-affirming opportunities -- or, as Jerry Seinfeld recently said, “to dupe innocent people out of hard-won earnings to buy useless, low-quality, misrepresented items and services.”

Early advertisements could afford to be subtle in their approach. It was enough, for example, to simply extol the “vertue of the coffee drink,” in a format similar to any other newspaper article: “It is a simple innocent thing, composed into a Drink, by being dryed in an Oven, and ground to Powder, and boiled up with Spring water, and about half a pint of it to be drunk, fasting an hour before, and not Eating an hour after, and to be taken as hot as can possibly be endured….”

These promotional efforts didn’t have to be particularly creative to stand out in an uncrowded marketplace. But I think we can all agree that the marketplace is no longer uncrowded.

Every time I go back to New York, I think to myself, “Surely Times Square is saturated. There can be no further opportunity for them to add more noise, more flashing lights, more characters, billboards or promotions.” And every time I am wrong, discovering LED screens that climb ever higher up the buildings, wrapping themselves around corners and vying to outdo one another in size and resolution. At this stage, you would need a helicopter dangling an elephant unicorn from a sling in order to get even a glance from passers-by.

Virtually speaking, we are similarly saturated. Thankfully, we have already passed one peak, and by and large no longer have to deal with pages and pages of pop-up ads that procreate as fast as you can click the close button. But the demands of advertising are growing faster than the inventory of our collective attention. And as ads continually outdo themselves, each successive campaign has to be even larger and more dramatic in order to stand out.

I don’t know what it will look like when the advertising industry collapses in on itself, when its gravitational pull exceeds its own mass and it can no longer maintain structural integrity. But I suspect we’re going to find out.

1 comment about "The Nature Of Advertising Heralds Its Own Implosion".
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  1. Derek Hewitt from Online Broadcasting Corporation, October 24, 2014 at 12:02 p.m.

    One of the oldest ads extant is actually for a prostitute. You can see it carved in stone at Ephesus, second largest city of the Roman Empire (not sure if it says "satisfaction guaranteed"). I think you answered your own question as to what advertising will look like when it implodes upon itself because it's already doing so. Mega "push" campaigns will get bigger and more global, while useless banner ads will go the way of the popup, to be replaced by higher relevance online video, native or otherwise, activated by "pull" i.e. search. Just as Times Square is now all about video, future advertising seems to be all about TV in one form or another.

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