Column: Connection

The question "is there life after death in advertising?" comes from the same intellectual depths as those plumbed by Cher when she posed the far more fundamental query, "Do you believe in life after love?" This fatuous comparison merely allows us to say, "of course," and then get over it. Love, relationships, and marketing communications occupy a spectrum from the indifferent to the spectacular; they always have and always will. It's still advertising, but not as we know it.

So the real questions are about form rather than existence, about the means of transmission, the space/time continuum, and the commercial potential of the activity. In a general sense, this readership does not need me to convince it that we live in an increasingly on-demand world. But this audience may need some persuading that linear advertising formats can survive in that environment.

Linear advertising can survive, as long as it is fueled by a large proportion of viewers that maintain a stable relationship with the media they consume. There's also an increasing need for an overt contract between consumers and publishers/broadcasters. For clarity, I believe that it simply will not be possible to consume some media without being "forced" to consume embedded commercial content. Pre-roll video online is an obvious example.

The means of transmission is fascinating. When I grew up in the black-and-white U.K. (think moon landing, Churchill's funeral, and the '66 World Cup), there was one commercial-TV channel with 30-plus gross ratings point spots every night of the year. This was the most marvelous news if you made soap, but it led to an unbelievably limited brand count of advertisers able to use the power of film to persuade consumers to buy and retailers to stock.

So now we have broadcast TV, cable TV, broadband, mobile, interactive TV, on-demand TV, and the rest. So the opportunity is there for the little brand with a specific target to use video, while the big brands can look to audience aggregation and engagement, combining formats and platforms to get the job done.

In the old days, time, space, and money were inextricably linked for every brand owner who wanted to advertise. Now that is simply not the case: The combination of online and digital video recorder platforms breaks that link, which means you can pay to use platform A as a signpost and platform B as a destination. Tell 20 million people in 10 seconds that they can visit for a half hour at your if they want.

Only a few will come, fewer will reach a high level of engagement and action, and a very (but very important) few will suddenly take on transmission for you. They will phone or text people; they will blog about it or about you; they will send links and use clips and all kinds of devices to disseminate that which delights or revolts them (take care about the revolt thing).

Of course they might also buy stuff from you there and then. Here's a thought: Media is not just a communication space, it is also shelf space where choices are made and transactions completed. This is the real future for media and communications and the real opportunity for brand owners, content owners, platform owners, and agencies. We have watched a 30-year transition from brand primacy to retailer primacy. Maybe the tide (or even the Wisk!) is turning. Brands that communicate and engage in a relevant and targeted way, and those that read the map and the signs of the new communications topography will have new and exciting opportunities comparing the cost of an end aisle of Wal-Mart with its Yahoo! equivalent. You can sense a whole new definition of communications productivity here.

As a sign-off, my own view on the question of life after death is neatly encapsulated in a song written by Laura Nyro (and sung by Blood, Sweat & Tears) back in the 1960s, "And When I Die." They sang, and I agree, "I can swear there ain't no heaven, but I pray there ain't no hell."

Rob Norman is the worldwide CEO of MEC Interaction. (

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