At the Crossroads and In the Cross Hairs

At the Crossroads and In the Cross Hairs

Once upon a time, you could buy this device called a television, plug the power cord into the wall, hook it up to the antenna, turn it on, and entertainment appeared. It offered a variety of content, across channels. Oh, and there were commercials. That’s how broadcasters/content providers made money. It was referred to as a ‘revenue model.’ It worked well for a very long time.

Then cable TV came in, for which you paid a monthly fee, but at least there were no commercials, at first, but that didn’t last long. Suddenly, you were paying for cable and being subjected to commercials.  Some of us were being charged nearly $200/month for the privilege of being shown commercials. And you wonder why people started untethering en masse and turned to services like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, et al.

Now we’ve entered a new age of tech and online shopping/search/social and it’s all about Big Data. People are being tracked, scrutinized, targeted, marketed and advertised to – and discovering that all is not fair and equal in the online world, when it comes to pricing. Try ordering an airline ticket. Come back an hour later, and the price has gone up. Try it!

We’ve also entered the age of ad blockers, courtesy of Apple’s recent stand. We do know that ads pay the bills for content creators, but Dear Advertisers: when you’re serving us ads on mobile and basically taking over our entire screens (and bandwidth) – that’s just too much real estate to monopolize on mobile. Of course, at the core of it is Apple’s competition with Google, who derives the bulk of their revenue from ads, and about Apple creating a walled garden and moving people onto apps.  Which is as much about taking over your online real estate as is anything that any advert is doing. Apple’s Support of Ad Blocking May Upend How the Web Works, and as the piece says, the web might feel to many as if it’s free, but it’s ads that keep the lights on. And if Apple is successful, it’s the smaller publishers who are likely to suffer most.

As an industry, advertising has long been one of the hold outs when it came to embracing online and understanding the needs of the audience. We’re not talking adtech. Many fortunes have been made there. We’re talking about the ad agencies. Advertiser have a history of taking over the screen (think television) and taking up 15 to 30 seconds of your time, and you were a captive audience, unless you changed the channel or used the time to fetch a beverage or snack. No need to hurry: television commercials are stacked, so you had/have a few minutes (depending on whether or not you’re still among the tethered). When it comes to taking over your screen online, that’s not what we mean by ‘disruption.’ Advertising was once a form of entertainment. Ads were humorous, even awe-inspiring,  Time to start working with us here in this ‘new’ medium.

We know that advertising has its place in the online world: it just hasn’t quite hit its stride yet . And while we don’t support online piracy, we do understand the backlash against data collection et al, and there’s always a price to pay. In case you were unaware, Popcorn Time Lets You Watch Any Movie For Free (P.S. It’s Illegal). The online world is a place of creators and disruptors. Back in the day, the music business shut down Napster rather than bother with innovating and giving people what they wanted, where they wanted it. Popcorn Time is just the latest iteration of that, and people always prefer free – and have gotten used to it online, aware that they’ve traded it for their data and privacy. But people have had it with being the product, rather than the customer, and all things considered, time to skate to where the puck is going, rather than to where it has been. People pay for services like Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu. And they buy products every day of the week. While they might not necessarily be served ads on the streaming services, their information is nonetheless sold to third parties, and that means advertisers.

And the circle goes unbroken.

But not undisrupted, as we see by services like Popcorn Time, which is only gaining in popularity (Popcorn Time pirate movie streaming coming to a browser near you). The promise of cable was that you’d pay for the service, then not be advertised to. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. People do remember. And if you are going to advertise, know your audience. We defer to Don Draper once again, in one of our favorite bits from Mad Men, when he literally reinvented the wheel – definitely worth another look. And note to advertisers and entrepreneurs out there who plan on selling information to third parties as a revenue stream: if you’re not going to take the time and effort to reinvent the wheel, then you’d better at least learn how to roll with the punches. Onward and forward.

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