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April 16, 2008

Advertising: An industry in flux

Logo_adtech After a full day of jumping from keynote to panel, I've concluded from my first day at Ad:Tech, if any conclusions can be drawn, that the industry is changing, everybody knows it, and no one is quite sure what sequence of actions will result in the best possible outcome. That's not just advertising, though, that's life.

Let's get this out of the way, though:
Most of the panels and keynotes I went to at Ad:Tech were pretty darned good. I particularly enjoyed hearing about Kodak's story and how the modern agencies are still trying to figure out how they fit into all of this.

Admittedly, advertisers had a charmed life for a short period of time when there were only three networks, and everybody's attention wasn't severely divided. For a time, there weren't many people they couldn't reach, and they would not have to do an inordinate amount of research to figure out how many they could reach just by placing an ad in prime time across the three major networks.

These days we have a lot more data to pull from, but we're not sure how to use them all effectively.

I can't help but think that this must be how consumers feel, with the myriad of choices they now have. This is true, not just with TV, but with other media and avenues of entertainment.

On top of that, consumers are bombarded with marketing messages to the tune of 3,000 per day. When you get that many, it's very difficult to sort out the good from the bad, so serving "relevant" ads, while a step up, will have limited effectiveness when they are drowned out by the 2,999 ads that aren't.

After all, the banner blindness and DVR phenomena didn't just happen because consumers were getting advertising they wanted to receive at a quantity they found acceptable.

Consumers are much less patient than they used to be, and with good reason.

Even though they continuously told us, through their words and deeds (like buying the DVRs) that they don't like ads, the industry responded by placing more ads on TV and otherwise trying to find ways to force consumers to watch their advertising.

Is that the way to build trust?

Who controls the brand?
I noticed that some speakers relied too heavily on the concept of customer "engagement."

Based on my observations, I suspect that "engagement" is defined, to an advertiser, as whatever it takes to interrupt a consumer with an ad -- as if consumers are falling over themselves trying to find an ad that suits them. Eyetracking studies and abysmal click through rates demonstrate that this is not the case.

Most speakers seemed to say that the consumer ultimately is in control.

But when they follow up such statements with this fantastic notion that they can force the consumer to do anything -- to "engage" them, it doesn't make much sense.


The legal situation also doesn't help. We live in a highly litigious society, and several panels mentioned the consequences of doing it wrong. At some points, I thought some of the speakers would resign control of the brand to the lawyers. I hope that's not true.

That isn't a knock on lawyers. Lawyers are just a reflection of reality. They are not the source of it.

The reality is this: Corporations are afraid. They fear not being in control of their message. They fear someone will say something wrong and it will get the company into legal trouble. CMOs are afraid they'll lose their job in 26 months or less. And... Truth be told, they probably will.

So history tells us it isn't an unfounded fear, but we need to make it a manageable one. Life is more chaotic than ever. We need to be able to adapt to it. It isn't realistic to expect our old methods to work.

What are your thoughts?

  1. Where do you think the industry is heading?
  2. How do you think it should adapt?

- Cam Beck


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To a great extent, the most recent change--consumer conversation--has happened. Not at Fortune 1000 companies, because they are always the last to adopt and adapt change. Eventually they will but by then the next big thing will be happening.

If we want to be ahead of the curve, watching and listening to large corporations or firms won't prepare us for change. Instead, we need to pay attention to entrepreneurs and thinkers. They are already beta testing the next big thing, which may or may not have anything to do with the conversation age.

The best companies are those reinventing themselves every year or two. You won't find that happening in the Fortune 1000 or the large firms and agencies.


"Even though they continuously told us... that they don't like ads, the industry responded by ... find ways to force consumers to watch their advertising."

Good point here, Cam. Engagement certainly is a buzzword these days, but it totally depends on one's definition of the word. Just because I'm forced to watch your commercial or pre-roll doesn't mean I'm paying attention. In fact, it might make me hate your brand for withholding content until I watch your painful spiel.

Lewis - I am watching the landscape with great interest, and I hope we get to a point where we can finally see these behemoth companies acting small.

John - I know what you mean. I actively avoided a company because, through an inconvenient placement of the close button, they forced me to look at an ad. I felt so wonderful about it, I've resolved avoid those companies more often. :)

"Most speakers seemed to say that the consumer ultimately is in control.

But when they follow up such statements with this fantastic notion that they can force the consumer to do anything -- to "engage" them, it doesn't make much sense."

What an interesting observation - reflective of a kind of conceptual lag between insight and adaptation. Thought-provoking - thanks!

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