Continuing to muse about advertising

My post yesterday elicited a few comments, and they took my thoughts down a different track. Today we have a lot of pushback against advertising. So why would someone predisposed to avoid ads watch something despite knowing it was an ad? Take a look at this video, with a whole pile of red flags around it. A “sponsored video”, in response to a “competition”. Despite the red flags,  liked it. What did you think?

There’s a little part of me that thinks we’re going to see something new emerge soon. We’re going to see marketers and advertisers compete for “sponsorship” of ultra-short videos and cartoons, which will become a whole new art form.

Micro-sponsorship at event level, where each clip is an event. The event itself will have no relation to the brand or product doing the sponsoring, or at best a loose connection. What does AIG have to do with Manchester United, or for that matter Carling to do with football? So what we see in the world of sport will move into the world of YouTube, but the “events” being sponsored will get smaller and smaller.

After all, people are spending real money getting away from advertising. Ad blockers. Special features in PVRs. You name it. Digital technology allows us to do this; you can’t pay to block out advertising at the FA Cup final, for example. Soon we will see that concept migrate to the digital world.

Just musing.

7 thoughts on “Continuing to muse about advertising”

  1. Interesting thoughts JP. I have blogged often about sponsorhip and am especially sceptical when it is the slapped-on version.

    It ultimately only makes sense to me when the sponsorship is inherent to whatever is sponsored (i.e the sponsorship is integral to the event as when skiboard companies sponsor ski-boarding events), but it exists because the sponsor gets more bang for their buck than by spending the equivalent amount on TV spots (and the company directors get a lot of freebies).

    Micro-sponsorship could work in a different way and associate the sponsor with the delivery of unexpected pleasure/laughs and the whole gifting concept. Beck’s already do something like this in the arts and would be a good candidate for your idea if they could be persuaded that they don’t need to spend huge amounts to have an impact – the micro refers to that which is sponsored but doesn’t have to mean that the sponsor is a small entity.

  2. Agree, John. When I said micro I meant that the sponsored event could be micro, that the sponsoring fee could be micro, but not necessarily that the sponsor needs to be micro. Could be, though.

  3. JP, What is the relationship between abundance and ability to slice and dice beyond Moor’s law?

    In most of developed world, Food and Water are abundant( Assumption). Yet handy packaged water, Fast food are thriving businesses. And there is phenomenon like Starbucks that not just slices and dices makes it readily available, but also throw in a cultural experience around it.

    Is Micro-sponsorship a step ahead of Starbuckifcation of whatever being Micro-sponsored? How long till the virtue of Gifting hold?

  4. Balaji, where something is abundant, we should not raise prices by creating artificial scarcities. Instead, prices can be raised through the provision of some other scarce value. What cannot be allowed to happen is that people are priced out of the abundance by force.

    If you take your “handy packaged water” example, it works well. Allow basic drinking water to remain unhindered and free. But make people pay for simplicity and convenience and “design”. As you say, handy packaged water remains a thriving business, and everybody wins.

    You can view Starbucks as a mash-up. They use a number of components to create something that is fresh and new and different, and people pay for that experience.

    That is good. But we have to understand where the goodness comes from. It is based on Starbucks using common components, components that are available to others, components that have not been artificially priced out of the equation.

    We make abundant things scarce using a number of appalling techniques: cartelisation; badly implemented patent and IPR law; even more badly designed DRM and privacy and confidentiality implementations; trade barriers and butter mountains and so on.

    People get rich as a result of these appalling techniques. And people die.

    I think it is indefensible that we as technologists allow bad design to be implemented. Time for us to make a difference.

  5. “you can’t pay to block out advertising at the FA Cup final, for example.” well I don’t know if anyone is yet providing this ability but the technology already exists (assuming you are not watching it live at the stadium) – I’m not sure it is used in Football, but I remember seeing once several years ago, a demonstration that showed how the trackside ads at a Formula 1 race were dynamically and digitally altered for broadcast to certain geographies. I think the driver was to prevent running foul of anti-tabacco and alcohol ad bans in certain countries while allowing them where permitted. This also gave the ability to target marketing making it geographically relevant (the advertisers don’t have to pay to access a global market if their product is only relevant/available in Germany for example..)
    So coming back to my initial point, there should be a way to provide a broadcast feed with all advertising ‘erased’ using this technology. As to whether anyone would care to pay for this, its probably unlikely…not sure many people really care/mind that their are billboards around the pitch or logos on the kit. But who knows.

  6. JP, you have tapped into a really interesting issue here, which is sort of a head-on confrontation (rather than a mashup) between moral philosophy and the attention economy. However, since BOTH of these areas are fraught with misconceptions (perhaps by the very nature of the subject matter), I think it may be worthwhile to get out the broom and sort out the perceptive observations from the ill-conceived speculations.

    In the pre-Internet world of television, almost obscene quantities of money were invested in drawing eyeballs to advertising spots; and that money served to trigger some truly creative work. Consider, just as an example, David Putnam’s production, complete with pseudo-disco Bizet, to promote British Air, one of the few commercials to have serious transnational impact. On the other hand, if the creativity is TOO good, it can actually block out recall of the product. My wife is drawn to any spot with animals (real or otherwise); and I suspect that she cannot remember most of the products being promoted. So you have to start playing around with some kind of attention economy calculus that models getting the attention in the first place, pointing it in the right direction, and then getting the subject to act on it (which is basically the same model behind placing advertising on search results … no surprise). However, since we are dealing, once again, with the social world, we still have a pretty weak understanding of what variables need to be in that calculus and which of them can be abstracted away, lest we get bogged down in our computations. So the Internet advertising evangelists extol the brave new world of technology, while the “old hands” continue to exploit the same intuitions behind television spot strategies. In the current state of play, both sides are doing pretty poorly; but, alas, the consumer is not doing much better.

    Speaking of the consumer, did you REALLY ask what Carling (as in beer) had to do with football? I cannot think of any American sport that is not fundamentally an excuse for drinking; and my guess is that beer is the most highly-consumed product when that excuse is exercised. I would have thought that this is as true for the European flavor of football as it is for the American. Advertising beer, whether on a billboard or a television spot, is the best way to ask the consumer, “Isn’t it time to have another one?” Isn’t Carling in the same beer business over there that they are over here?

    Now let us examine the idea of pulling this all down to the level of really short events. In a way this is taking search results as a venue of advertising to the next level; and it provides a new take on the calculus of the attention economy, because the time scale is so short that the attention time for the event and the attention time for the advertising may actually be of comparable magnitudes, meaning that they may now be in competition with each other, in ways that we do not observe in, for example, most sports broadcasting. (However, an aside is necessary here, which is that idea of the “Play of the Day.” This probably falls right in with the kind of micro-time-scale you have in mind. Perhaps British broadcasters have not yet discovered this concept; but, here in America, the “Play of the Day” clip has its own sponsor, which is probably as close to you idea of micro-sponsorship as things currently get!)

    This, however, is where questions of moral philosophy come into the picture. When content is reduced to micro-events and each micro-event is attached to advertisement that may well be on the same time scale as the event itself, there are bound to be questions, sooner or later, on what the content provider is actually supposed to be doing. In the United States this gets into the regulatory domain of whether or not a content provider should be granted a license to broadcast. This is not an issue on the Internet; but, if advertising gets to the micro-scale you are suggesting and people start asking questions about the allocation of bandwidth resources, it could easily become such as issue (which would mean that regulation, itself, would surface as an issue).

    Now you have already opened the door to moral philosophy over the matter of “appalling techniques.” However, I do not find your conclusion realistic. Where moral judgment is concerned, I feel that the question of whether or not a design is “bad” may not be resolved until we begin to observe the consequences of implementing that design. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule-of-thumb: You do not design toys for infants with small parts that are easily dislodged, for example. However, most of the techniques you enumerated as “appalling” emerged from well-intentioned design decisions and reviews, which can never anticipate all of the consequences that may ensue.

    So, if you wish to put micro-sponsorship on the design table, we should, at the same time, open the floor to exploring different scenarios of consequences. As in any brainstorming setting, we should aim for breadth of variety in those scenarios. Then, when we find a scenario that leads to “appalling” conditions, we should ask if there is a counter-scenario to undo the scenario: If we make a mess, can we get out of it?

    Who should be having this conversation? If we now live in a world of operations where “nobody is in charge,” then, to paraphrase Hillel, why not us (and, to continue the paraphrase with a quotation, “If not now, when?”)? If we are to “make a difference,” then the best way to begin is by making an example of our own actions!

    http://confusedofcalcutta.com/2007/09/22/nobody-was-in-charge-of-the-operation-a-sad-motto-for-our-times/

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