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The evolution of advertising: ways forward | Ctrl-Shift

Posted on: Monday 21st of March 2016

The final installment of our blog trilogy on the crisis in the advertising industry.

There is a simple, transformational way forward. Imagine a different set-up that looks like this. Individuals are enabled to build rich profiles of information about themselves from multiple sources online and offline, including demographic data, transaction data, financial data, preference data, interest data. They do this for their own purposes – to make better decisions and manage their lives better. But as a by-product they can also ‘publish’ profiles to advertisers via varying degrees of disclosure, for example:
– anonymised, demographic data (for purposes of brand awareness advertising)
– anonymised interests plus supporting profile data (for context relevant advertising)
– anonymised, current purchasing plans and priorities (for personally relevant advertising)

They can update, switch on and switch off exposure of these profiles at will, which means there clear data collection and use limits – getting rid of the blank cheque element of today’s ‘value exchange’ – while actually improving advertisers’ ability to target.

The table below sums up the difference between this and the traditional set-up as currently applied, from the point of view of consumer value.


The interesting thing is this. It is the application of digital technologies to an old model that has made a mess of advertising. But these self-same digital technologies are the only way to clean it up. We have reached a technology tipping point where it is possible to transform the advertiser / consumer relationship in a way that adds value for both sides. The trick is to switch the use of technology, from helping sellers to sell (‘targeting’) to helping buyers to buy (decision support). Economically, it’s the same thing because, if you help buyers to buy, you automatically help sellers to sell along the way.

Reinventing ‘relevance’ as a consumer driven, consumer controlled process is not the whole solution. It doesn’t really touch the brand awareness and costly signalling sides of advertising. But it doesn’t really need to. They can continue as they always have.

There are also other things advertisers need to do to up their game – such as audit the content and consumer impacts of their advertising: is it value destroying or value adding? Advertisers need to accept that like it or not, from the consumer point of view advertising is a product like any other – judged by the amount of value it adds. Every ad is competing for everything else in a busy world that could consume the consumer’s attention – what is the consumer’s return for paying attention?

Advertising therefore needs to be designed and delivered like any product in mind: with consumer value in mind. If ‘consumer effectiveness’ metrics were added to advertiser sales effective metrics, advertising as a whole would have a very different reputation.


The exponential rise of ad blocking is a symptom of a much deeper crisis in advertising. The the advertising industry is hitting two key realities of the information age. In an information age:
a) information needs to be seen and used as a tool in the hands of the individual, adding value for the consumer, and
b) consumer control, agency and purpose is an essential ingredient of value creation.

Many of the problems we are currently witnessing in online advertising – the unravelling of the modus vivendi that made traditional media such a powerful win-win-win and the worsening degradation of the consumer experience and value exchange – have been created by new digital technologies. Applied the right way, the same technologies can help solve them.