This may well be a watershed moment in marketing communication.
AOL is at the vanguard.
I know, right? It's, like, who did you say is at the vanguard? But it appears that, yes, AOL indeed is a first mover in the coming revolution -- which revolution is creating a direct quid pro quo for consumer attention to brand messaging.
You may have noticed that for the past 300 years there has been an indirect quid pro quo. Marketers bought advertising, and that revenue subsidized or completely underwrote media content. It worked splendidly for all parties… until it didn't. The collapse of that three-way symbiosis is what I called The Chaos Scenario back when I was in the predictions racket.
Now it is what is known as “reality.”
The endless glut of content has driven CPMs ruinously (for the media) downward, and digital tools have ruinously (for brands) facilitated ad avoidance. All the king's horses and all the king's ad tech can't put Humpty Dumpty together again.
But what if marketers skipped the middleman? Literally -- “media” by definition being the party historically between advertiser and consumer. Various startups are toying with precisely that idea, in various permutations. But AOL -- which like everyone else failed spectacularly at trying to monetize its content -- has figured out a way for mobile users to monetize their time and attention.
It's pretty simple. You, the mobile user, engage with a marketing initiative -- not necessarily by making a purchase, but just for inquiring -- and you get rewarded with a chunk of data bandwidth on the Verizon network. This is possible because Verizon owns AOL. That's the same reason that AT&T users can view DirecTV on their phones without streaming charges -- zero-rating, that's called -- except that AOL's play has no net-neutrality implications. No content gets preferential treatment by an ISP or phone carrier.
Now, as previously asserted, this could represent something like salvation for digital marketers, as long as criminals don't figure out a way for bots to hoard zillions in free bandwidth. But forgive me for not dancing in joy, because it represents one more nail in the coffin for media. If audiences grow accustomed to being paid for their attention, why weigh down the transaction with a paid ad to begin with? This is the birth of a marketplace, and in that marketplace the media will not for very long have a stall.
Which means not only lower CPMs, but less volume for organizations that can't break even at current levels of volume. Congratulations, Procter & Gamble.
Radio, TV, cable, magazines and newspapers and the entire Dumpty family…my deepest condolences.