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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.