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In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Saturday May 12 2007

Adriana on advertising:

The assumption that we are interested in advertising and messages that these people feed us “across all platforms” is still alive and writhing.

Being a good friend of Adriana from way back, it has taken me a while to get my head round the idea that old-school advertising is doomed.  But I am now starting to get this.  Basically, in the old days, they advertised at you, and you said: “I want that!” Now you say: “I want this”, and go looking for it.  Advertising contributes less and less to the story of how we now buy stuff.

My most vivid recent experience of “interruptive advertising” was when a day or two ago I tried to read economist.com.  I did read it, very contentedly, but first I had to “watch” an advert.  What a joke.  I made myself some coffee and just waited for it to finish, meanwhile noting that if I ever wanted to launch a hostile takeover bid I would have known where XYZ bank wanted me to go, had I bothered to note the name of the bank they were plugging.  Luckily for the bank I didn’t get its name and thus acquire a mild dislike and mild contempt for it, and a determination to ignore them when that hostile takeover by me of Microsoft finally gets under way.

More contempt than dislike.  Because I think I did quite well out of this, as did the Economist.  It was the bank that was being separated from its money to little purpose.

Little point, but worth making.  When a TV commercial break ends, during old-school TV, you have to be back at the screen before the adverts end or you’ll miss stuff, which means that in practice you subject yourself to a lot of advertising punch lines, for the sake of not missing anything of that movie you are trying to watch.  But once that Economist commercial has finished, I just get to the Economist premium content page, and I can take as long as I liked making my coffee.  I miss nothing if I ignore the advert completely.  How much and for how long will banks continue to be willing to pay, for “attention” like that?  ("Attention" is one of Adriana’s favourite words.)

The thing is, it’s one thing to show adverts and quite another for anyone to pay any attention to them.  In an old-school world of scarce information – although scarce messages is more accurate - adverts were all part of the scarce message universe that you eagerly scanned to get hold of that even more scarce information that you needed to navigate in the world.

But not any more.  Now, when you want to know something, what are the chances that the next message you encounter about that thing will be an advert?  Far less than of yore.  Of yore, you waited until you saw an advert - or maybe some editorial plug in a newspaper, which is, actually, the same thing - and you grabbed it eagerly, thereby making up that magic percentage number that advertisers drool over, of how many people “responded”.  But now, you immediately put your question to the Internet, and you immediately start getting far higher quality answers than any advert could possibly supply.  Adverts just become a more or less decorative, more or less annoying irrelevance.

Which means that in due course, the Economist is surely going to have a problem.

But I won’t.  I will have no shortage of such stuff to read.  I believe that the blogosphere now fills the gaps left by the old-school media.  As the old-school media, no longer able to rely on advertising revenue, start to collapse, either by just collapsing, or else by collapsing more subtly into a bunch of people no better than bloggers and paid about as much, then good bloggers will, energetically but without any great fuss or fanfare, fill the gaps left by the good old media.  There will probably still be advertising, in among the cracks of the new world, like street hawkers in a world where real business is done indoors.  But old-school advertising will be no more.

And meanwhile, it is writhing.

I greatly enjoyed those last couple of posts, thank you.

Posted by Simon HJ on 12 May 2007

Simon HJ

You are very welcome.  Thanks for saying that.  Very good for the morale.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait on 12 May 2007

Google is the company that got targetted advertising right, and figured out that it and search go together. They also figured out that the advertisement should be relatively unobtrusive and go on the side of the page. And they also figured out that they should share the revenue from the advertiser with the owner of the page. All very simple, except that they first needed really good search. Also, no conventional advertising business would have been able to get there, as it meant acknowledging the end of the business they had already.

Posted by Michael Jennings on 12 May 2007

Now you say: “I want this”, and go looking for it.

The question remains, however, how do you know what do you want? How did you get this initial information of goods/services available?
Michael,
while the idea itself [of Google advertising] is a sound one, execution often isn’t. Try to have a conversation with a friend by gmail; you’ll see all kinds of ridiculous Google assumptions to your right: say, if you happen to mention in passing, as a metaphor, oriental bazaar, you’ll be bombarded with irrelevant ads for all kinds of pseudo-bazaars, including ridiculous charity ones, etc.
Once, picking on my using the word Russian in the long text while inquiring about a friend’s outfit she purchased on occasion of wedding she was invited to, I was offered endless list of “Russian brides”.

You think this is efficient advertising or the reaction would be one so vividly described by Brian, dislike and contempt?

[OT: Michael, do you know that John Fowles has a character with your name (both, first and last), acting in The Ebony Tower?

Posted by Tatyana on 12 May 2007

Tat: Google is a very long way from perfect. Google mindreading (beta) is (thankfully) a way off yet.

However, they get it right, some of the time. Certainly they target it better than does your average television advertisement. And the other thing they understand is that they need to be relatively unobtrusive. If there is something that I have no interest in on the side of the page that I can easily ignore, then no problem. If on the other hand there is a large advertisement that is sitting on top of the text that I want to read and I have to do something to make it go away, then I am likely to be homicidal rather than favourably inclined to the product. However imperfect this is, I think it is worth the £150 billion that Google are capitalised at on the stock market.

Yes, I was aware that there is a Michael Jennings in the Ebony Tower. Oddly, although I went through a Fowles reading stage about 20 years ago (Oh God, I feel old), I never got to that one so I didn’t get to find out exactly what he did or does. Just out of interest, there is also a Michael Jennings who is a (British) professional boxer and another who is an (American) professional football. And of course, there was a protagonist in a Philip K Dick story named “Jennings”, whose first name was not stated in the story, but who was given the first name “Michael” when it was filmed starring Ben Affleck. (This trailer cracks me up every time I watch it).

I score higher than either on a straight Google search for Michael Jennings, which I am kind of proud of. There was a time (in the late 1980s) when I was the only Michael Jennings for which there was any kind of reference on the internet, but that fact is now another thing that makes me feel old. It is not like I am named “Brian Micklethwait”, or something like that.

Posted by Michael Jennings on 12 May 2007

...or Kohler Wilson

If you feel old, I feel inadequate. Only now I’m into Fowles stage...and I’m older than you. MJ in the story is a likable cross between London policeman and a public school graduate, an odd duck, investigating disappearance of a MP while falling in love with a woman who might be an accomplice or even a murderer.

Can’t beat the genius of reverse engineering, though.

Posted by Tatyana on 13 May 2007

Google isn’t the one who decides which ads show up in which emails or for which searches. Advertisers bid for their ads to appear in searches for (or emails containing) certain keywords or combinations of keywords. Nothing to do with Google at all, but with advertisers’ search agencies or in-house marketing teams.

Posted by Jackie Danicki on 13 May 2007
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