Column: Perspective

Advertising. the very word summons up a different time, in the second half of the last century, when things were much simpler. The Western economies, led by America, built a new world on the promise of plenty. Back then, things were easier for marketers. People in the postwar world were enthralled with a new technology: television.

Soon there was a glowing orb in every living room, delivering the promise of a better world, a better life -- or at least a life full of wonderful new products. Advertising was at the heart of this phenomenon. Television delivered mass audiences to manufacturers, who became experts at making products into brands. Advertising suffused those brands with promise and made them an integral part of a new consumer-focused culture. Television was also cheap. If, as the old cliché goes, 50 percent of your money was wasted, who cared: The other 50 percent was pure gold.

Of course, during the preeminence of scheduled TV, there were other media as well newspapers, outdoor, direct mail, and milk-bottle tops. All had successes and a role in the advertising model, but they didn't drive it. Television did. Then came a series of technologies that broke the stranglehold of the television-based model. There was the vcr and the remote control, then the explosion of channels through cable and satellite. Now it's digital television bringing more channels together with interactivity, and digital video recorders, the final death knell for scheduled TV.

Today the whole media mechanism is broken. I'll paraphrase John Hayes, chief marketing officer of American Express, who says, "For what other product or service would you pay more to get less?" And this isn't an anomaly or blip, but a 20-year trend. The convergence of digital tv, broadband Internet, and mobile is creating a media that is portable, individual, on-demand, and always on. It's my media, not a broadcaster's, say consumers.

And if they don't like what they see, they'll create their own -- blogs instead of newspapers, vlogs instead of programs, podcasts instead of radio. If advertising isn't dead yet, then the form of advertising that ruled the second half of the last century is all but dead -- and the advertising industry will follow. Things are going to be messy. But in a world where content is separated from the constraints of time, of place, and of format or platform, then search functionality will run across all media and be a key gateway to the consumer.

Of course content will be critically important, but notions of content are changing all the time. Brands will need to get more involved, but carefully and sensitively, and for a reason. Relevance will be increasingly important. And the key element will be time. Advertising was about grabbing consumers' attention at a moment in time, but marketing communications will be about creating touchpoints, experiences, or environments where brands spend time with people who do, or may, use their products or services. It is about quality time. I'm not sure what this phenomenon will be called, but it is different and it's a lot tougher. I do believe that linear storytelling as a form will be less and less effective.

The more touchpoints there are and the more interactive the messaging strategy, the more likely it will be to connect with people and to be effective. And what constitutes effectiveness will be transformed. The fact that you've supposedly reached a percentage of the population a certain number of times will be meaningless. The ultimate test of the industry will be measured on whether people actually did something --even, heaven forbid, if they bought something. It will be a challenge for all involved, but ultimately it may be more rewarding for all -- consumers, marketers, and even we who are in advertising.

Nigel Morris is CEO of Aegis' Isobar. (
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