Free content and advertising divorce imminent

I have been busy for a few weeks retooling myself for some new projects.

What has become increasingly apparent to me is superbly articulated in one line by Cindy Gallop made in a talk two weeks ago at the Guardian’s Changing Advertising Summit, telling the advertising business audience you need to “blow yourselves up and start again”. Watch the full video here or read a Campaign magazine summary.

Cindy talks about ethics, how brand owners need to behave responsibly rather than pay blood money to charities as compensation for their real-world exploitations.

Ad agencies themselves, and I’ve worked at a few, have never been shy of displaying their own self-importance and W+K’s latest recruitment campaign is surely planned to scream “look how creative we are”. W+K is looking for a social media strategist to work on its “high-profile” Old Spice account. Applicants, and there are sure to be a few, have to complete one or more of an extensive list of “social” tasks. This stunt typifies the industry’s approach to hiring talent on the cheap, as bad as the unpaid slavery of internships, encouraging people desperate to live the dream of a life in advertising, to commit masses of time and energy for 0.0p. However, I smell cheap crowdsourcing, where W+K will nick any original ideas to further their own “cutting-edge” credentials. Of course once they hire someone, they will milk the story for all it’s worth and probably win some kind of award that’s not worth pissing on.

Ethics and creative content aside, I have been exploring the business of advertising placement, how media in its widest sense is planned, bought and delivered. This may be somewhat less exciting than creating advertising but it’s what underpins the business models of many content producers, including most newspapers and TV channels which keep mass audiences satisfied and deliver fame, memorability and widespread word-of-mouth for brands.

Cindy Gallop used a quote from Marc Goldstein “People hate advertising in general but love advertising in particular” What happens when people can easily avoid much of the advertising they are served, without discrimination as to whether they are missing a treat or turkey?

A mate of mine has bought a season pass for Homeland on iTunes for £24.99. He has a long commute and can now watch episodes on iPad or iPhone when he wants. This is more than half of Channel 4’s annual ad revenue per UK home, and he won’t even be aware of the ads he would see if watching live on Sunday nights. Once most people have PVR’s and instant access to catch-up TV and VOD, I believe the majority of their viewing experience will be ad free and there will be a dramatic decline in the number and quality of impacts available to TV advertisers.

Could the 50 year old James Bond franchise’s latest episode Skyfall have been produced if it relied solely on money generated by the longest pre-film ad reel I have ever experienced in a cinema? The film’s paid product placements provide some of the production and marketing budget but it’s the cinema tickets and ad-free DVD and other in-home sales that pay for production.

Can the Guardian, and other general “quality” newspapers, ever hike their cover prices enough to a dwindling number of print readers to compensate for the drop in yield from advertising? Online doesn’t deliver, certainly not for display advertising anyway, as competition for eyeballs and ad budgets is intense and any interruptive advertising on this personal media channel is the most detested of all.

Anyone setting up a media venture now which they plan to be ad-funded should look first at what people are willing to pay for and treat any ad revenue as icing on the cake, like Sky.

Of course Google is doing nicely almost wholly funded by ad dollars, but they are not a media owner, they are a distribution channel for other people’s content, in which they can insert pay-by-performance ads on people’s short journey of discovery.

The fact is, make it easy or affordable enough for people to avoid ads and most will. The mobile and tablets will provide some extra ad impacts but only where the context and location are taken into consideration.

Outdoor advertising is in a pretty unique position as it’s just there and you see it, as are high-interest magazines where you’re grazing the content and the ads are just there for you to ignore or enjoy.

Advertising is not dead and people’s media consumption overall will continue to rise, it’ll just be a lot more difficult to reach them with an advertising message.

The long marriage between free content and advertising is already in separation and divorce is imminent.

You can read my other blogs and about what I do here:

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