Advertising is dead, so what’s next?

Author: Mike Edelhart

A few weeks back, I did a column for The Tomorrow Project, corporate parent of Pivot Conference, sharing the view that advertising, as we know it traditionally, isn’t going to make it through the crucible of social/mobile transformation.

The reason? Advertising was created to deal with a particular problem—marketers couldn’t actually find or reach buyers and influencers directly. The best they could do was work through artificial structures that generated great big groups that had at least some rough tendency toward the marketer’s product. Those structures were media properties—magazines, newspapers, TV shows—and the groups they created where audiences—demographic sets that shared some common affinity. Pretty raw and sloppy, but back in the antediluvean 1980’s that was the best we had.

Now, the actions, locations, interactions of virtually everybody on the planet are available real-time, up-close and deeply personal. So, why address big groups, when you can target specific individuals and their actions and contexts? Why distribute one-size-fits all messages, i.e. ads, when you can deliver precise and valuable just-in-time content instead.

Seems like an unfair fight to me. The precision and targeting are going to win. Ads are going the way of clay tablets.

Ok, so ads are kaput. But when? Ay, there’ s the rub. Could be soon. Could be 10 years, when today’s digitally gifted millennial teens become grownups and bring their us-oriented approach to everything with them. So, for those of us not pundits, who have to wake up in the morning and get actual work done, what does this all mean?

Great question. Here are some thoughts:

BRANDS, YOU HAVE TO GET YOUR CONTENT INTO PLAY, AND OUTSIDE YOUR OWN WEB/MOBILE ENVIRONMENT.  Brand companies know more about their products and the markets they serve than anyone. But, generally, all that knowledge is locked away in arcane systems and bound up by legal red tape. Brands have to free their content to flow wherever it is needed, whenever it is needed and they have to get out of their own way and let the content fly. Easy to say, hard to do. Heck, some companies still don’t know where all their content is, let alone how to maximize it. New platforms like Citia, show a path toward this end.

SOCIALLY DELIVERED CONTENT CHUNKS ARE GOING TO BE THE NEXT CHALLENGE TO TRADITIONAL SEARCH.   The combination of great stores of content in easily deliverable form and social analytics to determine what to send where, will be the next contender to knock search from center stage. If the social stream produces rich and accurate stats, and all content can be delivered anywhere, then consumers should get the info they need at the moment they are ready for it, or maybe just a short time before they are ready for it.  No need to search. The stream provides. Companies that remain too single mindedly focused on search, may suddenly find themselves behind a marketing eight ball. So, companies need to begin experimenting with these new content approaches as they once did with search marketing.  Rallyverse, a social content platform from the old Atlas ad server team at Microsoft, translates social graphs into content delivery in a way that begins to push search aside.

NATIVE ADVERTISING, AS CHOWDER-HEADED A PHRASE AS IT MAY BE, IS SOMETHING BRANDS AND PUBLISHERS HAVE TO GET THEIR ARMS AROUND. Call it what you will, small quanta of content delivered just-in-time are a better idea for the future than traditional ads. Numerous platforms are emerging in this space: Sharethrough, Inpowered and Appssavvy are among the most interesting.

MEDIA EXPERIENCES WILL NOT BE DELIVERED, THEY WILL BE BUILT. Most importantly, begin experimenting today with the notion that future digital media experiences won’t be produced linearly and distributed through fixed channels as in the past. They will be built on-the-fly from smaller content units using technologies like HTML5 that allow content to flow across different sizes and shapes of screens. Look at Buzzfeed: small, fascinating bits of content build up into headline-worthy units that are hard to resist. Or, consider Tumblr: Individual images that flow and are shared produce an immersive matrix of content that goes on and on and can be both utterly addictive and startlingly revealing of the attitudes of those involved.

We don’t have to leap into a transformed future. We don’t even have to fully believe in it. But simple prudence says it is wise to at least begin to prepare for it.

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