Commentary

Understanding The Advertising Revolution: Resistance Is Futile

Marketers and advertisers would be amiss to ignore the one constant in their evolutionary relationship with consumers --  consumers are annoyed by the omnipresent, intrusive noise of the advertising machine. I don't blame them, either. Advertising is highly disruptive, it's almost always irrelevant, and our desired content experience seems always compromised by it, whether we like it or not.

No wonder DVRs are becoming so ubiquitous - Forrester predicts that by 2010 more than half of all U.S. households will own a DVR. It puts us in control and we are using that control to skip the ads interrupting our program. Not to mention the ability to record shows when we're not home and pause live TV, rewind, replay, and so on. Those features are almost secondary to what really gets our adrenaline pumping - fast forwarding or using the 30-second skip feature to jump past the ads.

This has no doubt created a disturbing trend for advertisers. Consumers now believe they have a right to choose whether to view advertising or not, simply as they please. You can bet your marketing budgets that when consumers have the choice between advertising and their favorite television programming, they will likely choose the latter.  

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In order to overcome the diametrically opposed needs of both the consumer and marketer, we need to reevaluate the existing methods and philosophies of traditional advertising models in order to reach our most valued audiences with unprecedented precision.  We can't continue to ignore the fact that consumers are no longer living up to their end of the marketing contract. Advertisers are still paying for content in hopes of capturing the attention of the right customers --those who are qualified and interested -- at the right time.  Meanwhile, consumers have taken for granted content that is delivered to them through the Internet or on TV, content they view as free, but is in fact being paid for by our advertising dollars.  As the saying goes, why would you buy the cow if you can get the milk for free?  If content producers continue to give away the "milk," then a real and imminent danger looms on the horizon for media companies at all levels, if they don't reinvent the model.

Recent trends have demonstrated that paid content's reign may very well be over. We've seen this recently with News Corp., which has confirmed that it would make the online edition of WSJ free which, according to Rupert Murdoch, would increase the readership and, in effect, increase the revenue.  How will that increase revenues? Our instincts should tell us that simply reverting back to the old advertising model will only drive people further away while still making it difficult to monetize the content effectively. These conversations will continue as long as advertisers are willing to pay for non-engaged consumers, but I do see that actively changing.

Simultaneously, a host of new sites from major media companies, like NBC Universal's Didja.com, are creating new advertising-only online destinations, where the hope is that people will show up in droves and engage with your brand through branded entertainment and social networking features that allow you to share it with friends, as well as offering ecommerce functionality.

These trends may very well mark the start of a revolution that enables content providers to un-tether their content from its advertising paycheck. What matters is that somehow content is being paid for, but we all know it doesn't matter who's paying.

What does all this mean for the future of advertising?  Fret not, dear friends, advertising won't go away -- it will just evolve. It has to.  Marketers will integrate advertising into people's lives by engaging, instead of alienating; delivering relevance, instead of presumption.

The long and the short of it is that consumers and technology are both evolving, quickly; and the advertising industry must evolve with them, or better yet, lead the charge. Relevancy and control, even more so than the entertainment factor, are the keys to advertising's success in this brave new world. If marketers become enablers of these instead of inhibitors, consumers will engage in the advertising experience, willingly and with open arms. However, if the advertising industry continues to hold on to the traditional advertising models of yesteryear and attempt to retrofit it, as many are, there will certainly be a surge of vacancies on Madison Avenue.

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