A Saturday stroll musing about advertising

I’ve always imagined advertising to be about a transfer of information, connecting the customer to the product or service. And there’ve been different ways of doing it, some good, some not so good.

In the first age of advertising, recommendations flowed from the product marketers to the customers. Try this. Buy this. Nine out of ten cats this.

In the second age of advertising, recommendations flowed from celebrity product endorsers to the customers. Trust me I’m an expert. So what if I got paid a gazillion to do this, would I lie to you?

In the third age of advertising, recommendations flowed from customers to customers. Unsolicited. Come take a look at this, isn’t it fantastic? Whatever you do, do not repeat not buy that, it’s a load of **(££.

Maybe we’re on the verge of the fourth age, when recommendations flow from the customer to the product. I want something that looks like this, that feels like this, for yea much, by this time.

Maybe none of the ages actually stopped, we’re just discovering better and better ways of having real conversations about customers and products and services.

I don’t really watch ads any more. Yet I found myself watching this video. Maybe advertising will come back via YouTube after all. But with a difference.

We choose what we watch. When we watch it. Where we watch it. We choose to watch the ads because our friends recommend them, because they think we might enjoy watching them. Maybe we even get collaborative filtering going…. people who liked Ad A also liked…..

One way or the other, it’s rare that I enjoy an ad. So see what you think.


8 thoughts on “A Saturday stroll musing about advertising”

  1. Not sure I buy advertising as a ‘transfer of information’. Thats too positive. I see advertising as interrupting me, in the hope they will get my attention.
    PS… thats why I use AdBlock Plus, and turn to my laptop while ads are on during a movie.

  2. Colin, in the strictest mathematical sense of the word, the information content of a signal is measured to the extent to which it tells you something you did not previously know (which is to say, “informs” you). Whether or not that something is positive or negative or, for that matter, is something you wanted does not signify. This then raises the question of television spots and billboards, which bombard you with the same signal again and again; but, again invoking the mathematical theory of information, this is just applying redundancy to make sure that the signal actually gets received without being swamped by noise or other signals vying for your attention!

    As to those ages of advertising, we are hardly “on the verge” of that fourth age; we have just been blinded to it by our technocentric obsessions. Once upon a time, sales was a one-on-one face-to-face engagement (I should probably add “door-to-door” to those other hyphenations). In those engagements information (in my mathematical sense of the word) flowed both ways. The good sales reps were the ones who recognized that information was flowing to them, and the companies that tended to prosper were the ones who gathered information from those sales reps and put it to good use in planning future offerings. Now that e-commerce has tried to replace the engagement with the transaction, the opportunity for such bilateral flow of information has been eliminated, deluding “the usual suspects” of technology evangelists into thinking that it will be “the next new thing!”

  3. My advertising friends would (and have) argued albeit far from unanimously, that the impact of this ad is high because it focusses on a new “insight” not previously explored in the realm of shaving, namely men’s jealousy of the attention gained by babies.

    Thus, it falls outside your ages of advertising because it’s not actually imparting information/recommendations about the product. It’s not the quality of the execution (which again has inevitably been argued about) that gains your attention but the insight.

    Not sure I agree with them but I certainly agree with Stephen that the smart marketer learns from user feedback and see this as the way forward rather than JP’s utopia which still reads as a wish for absolute personalisation/customisation – great in theory but I’m sceptical if it’s commercially viable in commodified businesses like most FMCG categories. This, of course, may just be because I am still struggling to get my head around VRM.

  4. I love the Fight for Kisses ad. For me, advertising is at it’s best when it discloses things without really intending to. Like this ad:

    We know streets of grass would never survive car traffic but the image of what the city will look like when all that pavement is converted to parkland… priceless.

    This print ad is pretty interesting for what it tells us about wireless, see my comment:

  5. I just thought it was funny. That said I’ll almost certainly stick to my Gillette Mach3 or whatever, so although they got my attention, and without coercion, they didn’t make the sale. (Then again I’m not exactly the best razor customer in the world with the three scraggly whiskers that populate my jaw!)

  6. JP, actually the comment followed up on one of the critiques of Cluetrain that I wrote on my old Yahoo! blog:


    This was where I followed the path from George Herbert Mead’s symbolic interactions through Jürgen Habermas’ theory of communicative action into the practical world of buyers and sellers (while dealing with your favorite topic of identity at the same time)! Just as a reminder, let me quote the punch line: “Since it seems valid to assume that markets can only operate effectively within a context of understanding between buyers and sellers, Habermas’ theory ultimately explains WHY markets are conversations; but I am afraid that this kind of foundational thinking has gotten lost amid the 95 theses of the Cluetrain manifesto!” (Yes, I still believe that WHY is the most important question we can ask!)

Let me know what you think

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