Technological revolutions are most often overestimated in the short run, and underestimated in the long run.” So said Arthur C. Clarke, and history has repeatedly proven him correct. Revolutions tend to have a counterintuitive timing — rising often when the status quo seems to be on an uptick.
This uptick, in fact, contributes to the power of revolutions in the long run. It is human nature to confuse unmet revolutionary hype and an uptick in the status quo as safety — life is back to “normal.” This complacency, of course, is at the heart of the underestimation, if not outright shock, of real revolutionary forces over time.
Revolutions have an ability to seem astoundingly obvious in hindsight. It is clear today, for example, to any manufacturer or owner of a Walkman that the facilitation of having any song at your fingertips would revolutionize how folks consume music. Only Steve Jobs and a handful of others knew it eight years ago.
We are very much in a revolutionary period in advertising — the signs of which are so clear that within three years most of us will wonder how we didn’t fully appreciate it right off the bat. Of course, the status quo still wonders. Interactive advertising has been a “revolution” for years now, and still represents only around 10–15 percent of total ad dollars. Up-fronts are less exciting, but are fine. Folks still pay $2 million for a Super Bowl ad.
But the Revolution — capital R — is in users now and forever being able to get, share, block and compare notes on what they want when and how they want to do it. It is in the ability to get the right messages in front of the right people at the right time — making marketing messaging as useful a form of “content” as any that people seek, without interrupting or forcing them to do anything they don’t want to do. It is about technology that can deliver, en masse, a myriad of highly targeted and reliable messaging across a myriad of devices offering a standard of real-time performance and ROI unimaginable even well past the advent of the Web. It is about revolutionary marketers creating destinations of their own to more richly engage customers, with experiences that are so good they are bookmarkable and shared by their audiences.
If you think I’m doing what most revolutionaries do here, and talking in broad and vague language, start considering answers to these highly specific questions:
What individual, when given the choice, will want to have their media experiences interrupted for any reason, let alone for paid messaging, by a host of products that are irrelevant to their specific interests?
What marketer, over time, will spend exorbitantly to create experiences that people don’t want or actually block out, when capabilities exist today to create high-quality experiences at a fraction of the price, with more targeted delivery, which can engage customers on their terms in an interactive environment?
Who benefits from repurposing exorbitantly expensive 30- or 60-second spots put repeatedly, and annoyingly, in front of three five-minute videos, which most users desire interactively?
How much less will larger marketers spend on “publisher” Web sites if they create destinations of their own that are easily found on search?
Why will a Google/DoubleClick not dominate online display advertising sales the way Google AdSense does in search, and what will that mean for the role of interactive ad agencies — and sales strategy to medium- or smaller-sized sites trying to sell their own ads?
As marketers and “publishers” become more comfortable and sophisticated in managing advertising inventory, what impact will the flexibility, performance and real-time ROI benefits of ad exchanges have?
The defenders of the status quo don’t have good answers to these questions. I find they tend to shrug their shoulders, taking comfort in none of this yet disrupting them. For every one of these questions there are Revolutionaries who are, right now, making businesses within their well-thought out and inventive answers.
And, in the long run, with their focus on new technologies, they are on the right side of history. And, in only a few years, we will all say: “Of course.”
Christopher Schroeder is CEO of The HealthCentral Network.