I'm slow on the uptake. I can't believe it took me this long to figure out why advertising is dead. No, seriously. either it's dead or I am. It's not fragmentation, share of voice, contextual irrelevance, the rise of a new, improved native, or branded content, or advertainment, or infotainment, or paleo-tainment (for people who eat raw meat). It's not about anything replacing advertising, per se. It's about. Wait.
I don't want to blow my punchline in the first paragraph. In 2011, of course, YouTube launched the TrueView platform, introducing that lovely "skip" button. Thank goodness for that. And it turned out that, really, 70% of people don't skip the ads. Success! How many click through? About 4.25% and 11.8% on mobile (which I cannot believe, I'm sorry) according to one report I found.
Emarketer said, in a report, that by 2018 online video ad spend will be something like $12.8 billion, if you combine mobile and desktop spend. That's a ton of lettuce for something that won't work.
Back to the narrative: I was wasting yet another couple of hours on my YouTube addiction, a pastime that involves watching my favorite trivial videos: bad landings, surgical procedures for disorders I think I may have, arguments caught on tape — good karma content. And cat videos, which involves the only other organism on earth with a highly evolved sense of embarrassment. Did I actually go to college? High school? I have no idea any more. I used to read books.
Anyway, like most people, I tap my feet when pre-roll footage runs and wait for the little black TrueView box to manifest on the lower right corner. Unless we're talking movie trailers, of course, and then I watch. But anyway.
So there I am, poised to hit the nix button when an ad comes on. Interesting … and I watched it, the whole thing, which is something I do 1% of the time, and only with movie trailers. But I watched the whole thing because it was engaging, about people doing crazy things, with the requisite embarrassing moment, hijinks and "No way!" moment. It was incredibly good. And I can no longer remember which brand was involved, nor do I remember any of the narrative. Wow.
It was a great ad, perfectly designed for YouTube and incredibly effective at keeping my attention, and it was for a great product. And I made a note to self: "You are going to write a column about this, use it as an exemplar for great digital advertising. Big props to the agency and the brand."
So, either I have some horrible progressive cognitive impairment (note: look for brain surgery video), or advertising is really dead. Dead because media has shaped our brains to be progressively incapable of memory. This has less to do with too much advertising, video footage, branded entertainment, branded buildings venues, people, or places than it does the fact that modern consciousness skips from link to link like a stone skipping across the surface of a lake. We take little with us, remember less, and don't stay anywhere for long. It's a lake of tweets, teasers, YouTube videos, trivial news, trivial personalities, discussions strands, "friends," foes, headlines and the like.
This is not just a difficult place for advertisements to be effective; It isn't just challenging. It's impossible. "Engagement" and "relevance" are red herrings because the problem is saturation, and that includes instant irrelevance of the unique: today's flashbulb marketing idea is noise within the week. It is impossible to be unique for more than an hour, and marketers and agencies will debate this, because they don't see what consumers see.
Agencies and marketers talk each other with revolutionary zeal about their latest campaign and great creative, and the importance of the Super Bowl; and marketers see what the agencies tell them they are seeing, and the agencies tell marketers what they think they want to hear. And it doesn't matter if they’re right about how great it is, consumers won’t remember, and nobody cares but Cannes. Of course, we may all be suffering from early dementia. It's possible. I may have chosen the friends I have because they also have cognitive impairment. I know my wife thinks so. Oops, I didn't say that.