Content is king, but not for long.
Like most stories of overthrown monarchies, this will be an inside job. This tale includes an army of publishers and treason committed by the king's own flesh and blood.
King Content's publishing army was made up of soldiers with powerful and acronymic names like ESPN and USA, GQ and FT, NYT and WSJ. These experienced warriors honored the throne by publishing an engaging product designed to please the people the king was meant to serve.
In return for this content, the people accepted that access to their attention would be sold to well-dressed empires with graceful and heroic names like Nike, Mercedes and Gillette. The people also understood that, like taxes, the revenue the king's men earned from selling this access to the well-dressed empires would be reinvested into the product, thus enhancing the people's content experience. This reciprocal relationship between the king and the people first shaped the landscape of advertising.
To ensure the needs of the people always came before the needs of the well-dressed empires, King Content passed laws that formed a line between the church of editorial, and the state of business.
In turn, the well-dressed empires employed agents to help move this line in their favor. The agents ingeniously induced inbred fighting amongst the king's army by leveraging their client's gold bars. As a result, the boundaries King Content had originally drawn to protect the interests of the people kept moving. With each shift, the well-dressed empires inched closer to the throne that ruled over the people they coveted as customers.
At the turn of the century, the king's young prince, who went by the unique acronym of "www" and wore a breast-plated dot on his chest inscribed with the word “com,” announced himself and the future. For those who wished to join his new publishing army, he offered an “opportunity in measured interactivity” for all the well-dressed empires that paid to access this newly collected attention from the people.
Like a gun shot to start a race, young publishing warriors rushed to support the prominent young prince and his vision for the future. These new soldiers had youthful yet odd names like Lycos and Excite, Yahoo and AOL, to name just a few of the many who joined the young prince and set out to serve the people, just as their publishing predecessors had done for King Content.
As these new days wore on, King Content sat idly on his throne, proud and intrigued by what his young prince had accomplished. At night, however, his majesty slept with one eye open. The agreements the prince's young army had struck with the well-dressed empires made the king nervous. Filled with new terms and newer expectations, the agreements made the value and often the price of access dependent on getting the people to abruptly stop reading the king’s words, and head directly to the market as soon as a well-dressed empire's message was shown. The king worried about how this new incentive structure would influence the way the prince and his army protected his people.
It was the king himself who had designed the structure for all prior agreements. He had always told his army of acronyms that the more attention they collected, and the longer they held this attention, the higher the reward they would earn. This incentive nourished the people by feeding the product the people chose to consume. These new agreements, however, rearranged the incentive structure so that the quicker the people were fed to the well-dressed empires, the more the young prince's army would eat like kings.
One evening after the king dozed off to sleep, a vision came to him in the form of the god named Pandora, who was blessed with beauty, talent, and a box that should have never been opened. The next day, the king decided it was time to talk with his young prince.
The two met at Galaxy Dinero. They ordered herbal teas and sat at a table in the back. After a few sips, the king spoke first. "Incentives are more powerful than any army,” he said. “Misaligned incentives can drown a mountain of good intentions in an ocean of deception. We have always used incentives to ensure that when my army of acronyms does what is best for them, they meet the needs of the people. In turn, the people have rewarded us with their trust and loyalty. Without it, we have nothing.”
"But Father," the young prince interrupted, "we are doing what's best for the people. We have an idea of what they want based on the behavior we monitor -- and by sharing this information with the well-dressed empires, we can determine the most appropriate goods and services to market to them." The prince continued, "And by doing so, my publishing army puts themselves in a better earning position."
The king raised his eyebrows while lowering his head. "My son," he said solemnly, "if posed with the choice to do what is best for the people, versus what is best for the well-dressed empires, your army will do what is best for themselves. By doing so, the people’s needs are in second place for the first time in our history."
King Content slowly got up from the table, knowing that when the prince and his army helped the well-dressed empires cross the line enough times, the trust of the people would be lost forever -- and he would no longer be their king.