Commentary

The Inevitable Happens. The World Is Stunned

The headline of the London Evening Standard on September 1, 1939 was:

GERMANS INVADE

AND BOMB POLAND

BRITAIN MOBILISES

As if it were a surprise. Years of denial, appeasement and naïve diplomacy had yielded exactly the aggression that had been inevitable and obvious since at least 1933. The Times of London could have, but alas did not, offer the competing headline:

NO SHIT

The British mobilization was, to say the least, tardy. Perhaps y’all recognize the feeling. What brings this catastrophe to mind is not just the approaching anniversary of World War II's outbreak, but some headlines in this publication and elsewhere over the past couple of days. To wit:

Advertising Industry Losing Billions To Ad-Blocking Software

The Adobe/PageFair study quoted in the story predicts the financial toll will exceed $41 billion next year. Well, blow me down. Who could’ve seen that coming? Hahahahaha.

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Of course, consumers are using ad blockers. And why? For the same reason dogs lick their privates: because they can. For all those wonderful analog centuries when readers couldn't eradicate print ads or fast-forward through Mr. Whipple, the advertising industry somehow let itself believe that it was cherished. Advertisers were captors who imagined themselves as hosts.

Sure, a few outliers like “Where’s the Beef?” and the fast-talking FedEx man amused their way into the pop culture. Yes, many other ads insinuated themselves in the mass consciousness through mere endless repetition (“Pepsi-Cola hits the spot! Twelve full ounces -- that’s a lot!”). And, yeah, Tony the (Sugar Pimp) Tiger made people applaud in a couple of Advertising Week parades.

But there is a difference between familiarity and affection. There is a difference between nostalgia and affection. There is a vast difference between resignation and affection. Face it: they never loved you. They. Never. Loved. You.

The very moment TiVo permitted commercial zapping, and spam filters emerged, and AdBlock Plus was released, they ran from you as fast as their software could carry them. They treated you like roaches and mice. They brought in exterminators.

I take no joy in reporting that, because exterminating advertising is something like exterminating bats and spiders. They trigger visceral disgust, but they perform a very valuable function in the ecosystem. We need a functioning advertising economy to underwrite the news and entertainment content that amuses the world, and not incidentally, undergirds our democracy. And no alternative revenue source -- not subscriptions, not micropayments, not affiliate links, not native, not data, not e-commerce -- has emerged, alone or altogether, to replace it.

That is the nub of the problem for marketing -- but mainly for the media economy. Yet in 2015 we continue to see industry-wide freakouts about ad-avoidance and fraud and CPM shrinkage and fragmentation and all of the other consequences of digital revolution that have been inevitable and obvious for more than a decade. It’s as if the whole lot of you fell in the thrall of Neville Chamberlain -- not because he made any sense, but because you wanted to believe you would have peace in your time. This despite the likes of Winston Churchill, who began warning Europe of its tragic destiny in 1930. Yes, he outlined the chaos scenario three years before Hitler even took power. 

Not because he was clairvoyant. But because he was willing to open his eyes.

And you…you with your data and your technology and your Series C Rounds and your relentless optimism….well, you have mobilized too late.

12 comments about "The Inevitable Happens. The World Is Stunned".
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  1. Mike Einstein from the Brothers Einstein, August 17, 2015 at 9:40 a.m.

    NO SHIT.

  2. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, August 17, 2015 at 11:23 a.m.

    One wonders what the capitalistic world would be like if "they" took over and banned all ads. Obvoiusly some people are fine with this, but have they considered the impact on the economy and how difficult it would be to launch new products or services----without anyone knowing about them. Of course there would be solutions, but our world would be a very diffferent place without ads. That said, if the media and advertisers wont control the number of ads and their overly intrusive exploitation, they have to accept that normal people will keep trying to avoid their ads, thereby reducing the effectiveness of their ad campaigns. The time will eventually come when some form of regulation may be required to restore some balance between the amount of ads aimed at us and how many we are willing to tolerate.

  3. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, August 17, 2015 at 2:08 p.m.

    I should make a citizen's arrest for breaking Godwin's Law.  But an enjoyable essay nevertheless.

  4. Jeff Sawyer from GH, August 17, 2015 at 2:13 p.m.

    Clients didn't want to believe it, and agencies couldn't afford to.

    American, land of posers. Now with tattoos! 

  5. Brian Kelly from brian brands, August 17, 2015 at 2:18 p.m.

    I thought it was because "they can't make a fist."

  6. Doc Searls from ProjectVRM, August 17, 2015 at 2:20 p.m.

    Exactly.

    For backup wisdom on All This, dig Bob Hoffman, the Ad Contrarian http://adcontrarian.blogspot.com/ and Don Marti, champion of What Actually Works and Doesn't Creep Us Out or Piss Us Off: http://zgp.org/~dmarti/

    And then there's my own stuff, the latest of which is Separating Advertising's Wheat and Chaff: http://bit.ly/wheatchaff .

  7. Lorenzo a. Morales from Massive Company replied, August 17, 2015 at 2:28 p.m.

    The industry isn't changing. The delivery mechanism of brand awareness for services/goods has to change. Sponsored content is the norm and preroll even more, especially since people are pulling the plug and subscribing directly to pay avenues for their favorite content. The message (ads) must get shorter and smarter. Gone is the (bs) nostalgia adverts of a bygone era. 
    I don't claim to have a solution. But yes - I agree. No shit.

  8. Marty Rolnick from The Ideamaker, August 17, 2015 at 2:36 p.m.

    You are an amazing truth teller, BG!  Thank you!

    "Stupid is as stupid does!"

  9. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston replied, August 17, 2015 at 2:43 p.m.

    I've seen this line of reasoning before, that people nowadays are simply upset with too many ads, but not as much as years ago when there were fewer of them. I can't refute the notion, but I still agree with Bob that many people have *always* hated advertising, regardless the commercial load. When I was a teenage some fifty years ago, Al Jaffee at Mad Magazine even drew detailed diagrams on how anyone could build a wired remote for the TV set speaker for less than a couple bucks. I built one and thankfully never touched a fully charged capacitor in the back of the set.

  10. Thomas Siebert from BENEVOLENT PROPAGANDA, August 17, 2015 at 4:04 p.m.

    Great piece, but it's not just advertising we're talking about here. Banking, the stock market, the political system, law enforcement, etc.; it's all in dire need of a reset. 

    I think Doug Ferguson is on the right track, even if the doesn't really want to admit it: If there were fewer ads, people would be less annoyed. It's the same as why people stopped stealing music -- when it got a price point they didn't mind paying, the thievery dropped. If cable and satellite stopped escalating their prices to confiscatory levels, then maybe the cord-cutters wouldn't be passing 500K per quarter, and torrent services wouldn't be so heavily trafficked. If the Washington Post page didn't try to cram 12 ads per page with a video autoplay on every story, then maybe I woudn't've downloaded Adblock with such gratuitous enthusiasm. 

    History has shown, again and again, nobody gives up their power -- or market position -- willingly. It has to be taken from them. And today's citizen is taking the power back, because technology is giving them the opportunity to do so. Let's hope they don't squander it on the next Kardashian app.  

  11. Joe L from SumTotal Marketing, August 17, 2015 at 9:13 p.m.

    Great article.

    I think its likely to lead to fewer "accepted" media for advertising.  Then the price will go up for the accepted media.  It follows that if this holds true then eventually only big brands will be able to afford this media except in niches.

    All else may become the equivalent of infomercials, direct mail, very local media & yellow pages listings.

    Reminds me of...




  12. Nancy Brinson from University of Texas at Austin replied, August 19, 2015 at 9:54 a.m.

    Doc Searls' thought leadership in this area is much appreciated! Loved his book, The Intention Economy as well as his blog. Advertising personalization is the subject of my PhD research at UT Austin.

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