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The future of advertising

Posted on: Friday 20th of April 2012

Interesting article on the BBC Technology web site (which, by the way, seems to be turning itself into an advertorial platform for big technology companies).

It’s called ‘Going Digital: The Future of Advertising’ and it’s by Andy Hart, general manager of Microsoft’s advertising and online division.

What’s fascinating, and puzzling, is what it doesn’t say as much as what it does. Here are the key sentences.

“The future of advertising isn’t just about technology: people are also driving it (as they always have, of course, but in a far more profound and dynamic way than before).

“As consumers, we are moving objects, we can skip or turn off ads, we can opt out, and we can choose not to engage with a brand.

“Conversely, we can become brand advocates and may interact with ads across a number of platforms and formats, off and online.

“In addition to getting the creative story right, advertisers need to position brands so they are relevant or useful to increasingly demanding consumers.

He then goes on:

“To do this, planners and strategists need to know what people are doing, on what devices, where, when and why.

“A global study we conducted, Context Matters (2010), found that the morning is the key time for use of the internet for social activities, while the evening is more for entertainment.

“Internet users are most open to ads when surfing, purchasing and information seeking.

To me, this looks like a classic evolutionary half-way house: neither fish nor fowl. Mr Hart is wriggling desperately on a hook, trying to reconcile conflicting demands – and failing miserably.

First the upside. He recognises people are ‘driving’ advertising (though I’m not really sure I understand what he means by ‘driving’); that they are increasingly in control (able to turn ads off, opt out, and so on); and that ads should be relevant and useful (though he doesn’t define ‘useful’).

Now the downside. To do this, advertisers need to launch a massive personal data landgrab so that they “know what people are doing, on what devices, where, when and why”. And still, it’s all about getting messages through to eyeballs – working out in what contexts, and at what times of the day people are ‘most open’ to the ad’s influence. He seems quite oblivious to what a toxic, trust-destroying combination this is – or that, in doing so, he’s utterly failing to follow through the implications of what’s he’s just been talking about: people as drivers, being in control, and finding the process useful.

In contrast, here are some of the things he didn’t say. They all revolve around what we call Volunteered Personal Information (VPI).

  • The first, most basic rule of marketing is to ‘identify and meet customer needs’. In the context of advertising, the primary consumer need is to research and make a better purchasing decision.
  • Thanks to digital, individuals can, increasingly, specify what their decision-making needs and priorities are: what their current interests are, their goals, plans, priorities, preferences etc.
  • They also have the tools to set permissions and controls so that they can do this without opening themselves up to a tidal wave of spam and endless intrusion.

In other words, advertisers have the opportunity to reinvent advertising so that it becomes a truly convenient service for individuals, in a way that massively reduces advertisers’ costs of reaching the right customers at the right time, while massively boosting their chances of getting the responses they want – including increased trust and approval as opposed to plummeting trust and mounting disapproval.

What I can’t understand, for the life of me, is why supposed experts such as Mr Hart are unable to see this. Am I missing something? Or is it them?

Any ideas?

Alan Mitchell