A Future With No Advertising? Really?

How are we defining ads these days? What does it mean to be in advertising?

Earlier this year, Marc Pritchard got people thinking about what a future without ads would look like. There were also pieces about whether we've really changed advertising, and whether we really need it anymore.

All this got me thinking about what role advertising plays and whether it is indeed necessary now, or not.

I have a degree in advertising. There are lots of people who are in advertising, but very few of them ever actually studied it, while I had four school years to learn how to do it well. If you add that to my 25 years of work experience, I think I’m qualified to say advertising is necessary, but its current formats are not.  

Ads are intrusive, but in the future they may not have to be. I can look at the stages of digital advertising over the last 20 years, and ads have shifted from being more intrusive to less intrusive.  

Banners and content ads that we see today are more integrated into the experience (for the most part) versus where they were in the early 2000s. Targeting has made it easier to tailor the message to the right audience, and video ads are more effective than the rest of the online ad solutions we use today.  



Advertising has supported the growth of media and the fragmentation of different content through different channels that allow consumers to get the information they want when and where they want it.

None of this would be possible without advertising, and digital advertising has absolutely had a profound effect on changing the way ads are delivered.

If you ask consumers whether they like ads or not, they almost unanimously say they do not. But if you ask them what products and services they most recently purchased, you will undoubtedly come up with a bunch of products and services that advertise.  

I am 100% certain that advertising works, but I am just as certain that it could be better. Advertising is persuasion. Advertising is messaging that resonates and media that targets. Messaging and media can both evolve.  

The landscape of broadcast and digital is shifting to a customizable subscription-oriented model, and advertising will likely evolve in the same way.  

As an example, I’ve been writing lately about what cable TV might look like and whether people will continue to cut the cord or not. I believe cable companies will come around to customizable bundles where consumers can select the menu of networks they want to pay for.  

Alongside that, I think consumers may start to opt in for certain types of messaging from categories of products they may be interested in, and cable companies will curate the kinds of advertising they deliver.

A portion of the ads will be more random and unselected in order to expose consumers to new ideas, but the majority will be products and services that consumers are more likely to engage with.  

This will become more necessary as the parameters around data usage become narrower and more restricted. The future of data is not looking good, so advertisers will need to find other ways to deliver a targeted message. So the reciprocal value of customizable media packages with self-selected ad packages makes sense.

This is but one potential evolution. I think we are likely to see a shift for advertising to become more supportive and less intrusive.  I think interruptions of video could be removed in favor of bookends and blockers.  Making someone watch an ad at the beginning is better than intruding in the middle, and if those messages are more targeted, then I think consumers will be OK with them.

There are certainly other ways that ads are going to change, but I can’t envision a world without advertising.  The future would be bleak with no ads, in my opinion.

8 comments about "A Future With No Advertising? Really?".
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  1. STEVE CLIMONS from Crosssover Creative, September 25, 2019 at 1:35 p.m.

    Advertising that is supportive is purposeful. 

  2. Richard Reisman from Teleshuttle Corporation, September 25, 2019 at 2:13 p.m.

    To really transform advertising and make it more supportive we need to shift the business model. Current ad-supported services have distorted incentives. Crediting users for their attention and data is the natural way to re-align incentives while still enjoying ad revenue.

    Users can agree to give their attention to ads in return for credits against their subscription payments. If users are given control over what they will accept, then the advertiser must satisfy the user's constraints, and the service is incentivized to deliver real value to the user. Ads can be valuable to users, but each user must be the judge of that value proposition. We need to empower users, adapt services to deliver what they value. See "Reverse the Biz Model! -- Undo the Faustian Bargain for Ads and Data" (

  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, September 25, 2019 at 2:26 p.m.

    There was never a world without advertising from drums sending messages to Eat at Joe's. When did the big push of "I hate advertising" begin and how did it begin ? Only a guess that when the volume of ads on TV increased especially the number in each pod. The future indeed would be bleak without advertising and even bleaker if we cannot control our own data or sell it for a pack of matches. Rewatch or reread 1984 if you have to.

  4. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, September 25, 2019 at 3:48 p.m.

    Cory, there are many studies about what consumers think about ads in general and by medium. Invariably the medium that gets the lowest marks---meaning negative evaluations---is digital followed in fairly close step by TV. However, magazine ads are generally rated quite high as readers often welcome them for their informational value---especially about thematic subjects also  covered by the magazines' editorial content. Interestingly, about 25-30% of the respondents in many of these studies say they find ads amusing or entertaining or welcome them because they inform the consumer about new products or uses of same. As a rule an equal percentage are very critical of ads while a large middle block is more or less neutral.

    More to your basic point---a world without ads---that would probably be an economic disaster as marketers with new products would be denied a method of introducing them on a mass basis. And consumers would be denied many of the TV shows, radio stations and magazines that they enjoy. As for consumers opting in to receive ads that idea has been floated many times and it might work for a few types of products. But how does the marketer get enough people to be aware of its product or service to motivate opt- ins in the first place?The answer is by ads. It may well be that some combination of the two will evolve at scale---or approaching scale---but I doubt that this will work for many types of products---especially commodities ---on a large scale. Remember  Cableshop, back in the early 1980s. This was a cable channel that feqatured no content but advertiser "infomercials" about their products. Consumers were supposed to decide which infomercial they wished to watch. And a few did just that. But only a few---not enough to make the channel a viable operation. Have things really changed since? I doubt it.

  5. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, September 26, 2019 at 10:11 a.m.

    Interruptions are clearly the issue, except maybe during a sports injury/timeout or an intermission during a very long program. Bookends and blockers are likely the future because they make ad-skipping less a chore for those of us who tire of the same overexposed ad. And if I could accomplish one tiny wish, it would be an end to this wishful thinking about the audience being more accepting of ads that are somehow targeted or relevant. Ads are still intrusive in the middle of content, which is why people flock to ad-free streaming.

  6. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, September 26, 2019 at 12:11 p.m.

    Douglas, the fact that many---not all, but many---consumers are accepting of ads---including TV commercials--is not fiction, it's based on reality, supported by research. The basic difference between "linear TV" ads and many digital ads is how they are presented. TV content is specifically segmented into scenes or other natural breaks in what is being discussed or transpiring. Therefore the ads are not considered as interruptive as you believe---the main complaint---and a fair one--occurs when there are too many ads in a break. Again, this is supported by all sorts of research. In contrast, one of the main complaints about computerized networked digital ads is their interruption of content perusal on a random and most annoying basis as one after the other is "loaded".

    It is simply not true that most or all consumer are against ads. What they object to is how they are presented and their number. Also, regarding consumer response to "relevant" ads, this, too, is supported by tons of ad impact studies as well as common sense---it's not science fiction.

  7. Beth Donnelly Egan from Syracuse University, September 29, 2019 at 11:03 a.m.

    Always great considered commentary Cory, thank you. And we are doing some interesting research here at your alma mater measuring brain activity around content v. advertising. Our early findings indicate you are correct that people do not dislike advertising per se and actually demonstrate interest when content is relevant. More to come on that front. 

  8. Peter Rosenwald from Consult Partners, September 29, 2019 at 11:09 a.m.

    "If you ask consumers whether they like ads or not, they almost unanimously say they do not. But if you ask them what products and services they most recently purchased, you will undoubtedly come up with a bunch of products and services that advertise."

    Forgive me if I suggest that this statement borders on meaninglessness: I absolutely hate traffic jams but I can't avoid them.

    What is interesting is the rapid move of consumers towards acceptance of strong narrative content which contains a 'commercial' message, 'native' advertising if you will. The consumer doesn't mind reading or seeing good content nor does he/she worry about whose paying for it. This would seem to be the direction of the future which could end 'advertising' as we tend to view it.

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