A fork in the road for advertising

I often find myself wondering how far the advertising invasion will go; dissatisfied with the shrinkage of traditional channels and the still unconfirmed power of the internet, we find that new ideas for advertising are popping up all over the place. Last week I found myself in a meeting with a new media company offering to sell space on a screensaver that appears on mobile phones, the element that I thought on the one hand had become the most personal object we had, has suddenly been sold off to the highest bidder.

But this isn’t a new phenomenon: reducing our ‘ongoing’ costs and funding them by advertising is a business model that is trying its luck all over the place. From UPskin, the cheap car rental in Paris provided that you drive a car completely covered in advertising, to the Swedish telecoms company that offered free calls if you didn’t mind being interupted with a 10-second spot every two minutes and then this latest mobile ad that can reduce your monthly subscription charges as long as you’re happy that you are carrying an adboard around in your pocket.

It seems to me that as we develop/create/discover new media, advertising itself has come to a fork in the road. On the one hand to quote Invitro / Made by Many we can “stop communicating products and start making communication products” – and here we can look no further that the growing number of branded mobile applications such as Charmin’s public toilet finder or Zagat’s online directory – no need to talk about the product, but let the product do the work itself. On the other hand we can start to sell every available piece of media, be it stuck onto cars, on every screen or even audio to try and create a new business model based on sharing costs with the consumer. One of these creates a direct social impact by making our lives (hopefully) easier or at least filling a consumer need; the other has similarly a social impact, but this time one step removed as it reduces costs freeing up funds to be diverted elsewhere – to more consumption.

Naively we could say that these approaches are from creative agencies as they try to move to an ideas & production only model, and media agencies who are attempting to extend their paid channel model to every support available; this is not entirely the case but it does highlight the clear options that are available to marketers today, and also what this means – if the medium still is the message, then we are probably more likely to become a fan of a brand who delivers us a useful tool than one who plasters the exterior of our neighbour’s house (while paying for his electricity).

There are of course organisations that have created a hybrid model, Google is a great example, as they do very little advertising compared to the number of products they offer, and many of these products drive to cross-sell, and on the other hand the basis of their business model is the contextualised search that they are offering – their model relies on the fact that Google is the de facto provider of search marketing and so their credibility in this product is strong and finally the result is of value to the consumer. This cannot be replicated by the FMCG and automative goods that spend millions on advertising – so they clearly have a choice.

Which fork will they choose?

By Lex Bradshaw-Zanger

A digital native and integrated brand marketer with a passion for marketing-communications and product design, Lex has a truly international outlook and experience, having worked both in major marketing agencies and client-side brands across Europe, the US and the Middle East.

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