Friday, September 25, 2015

Effect, Meet Cause -- What Everyone Gets Wrong About Advertising

This is a very good article and makes some great points about the media, online content, privacy, IoT and robots. You should go read the whole thing. But, like almost all media analysts and tech experts, Maciej Cegłowski gets the advertising cause/effect backwards. He writes:

In the beginning, there was advertising. It was a simple trinity of publisher, viewer, and advertiser. Publishers wrote what they wanted and left empty white rectangles for ads to fill. Advertisers bought the right to put things in those rectangles. Viewers occasionally looked at the rectangles by accident and bought the products and services they saw pictured there. Life was simple. There were ad agencies to help match publishers with advertisers, figure out what should go in the rectangles, and attempt to measure how well the ads were working. But this primitive form of advertising remained more art than science.
The old chestnut had it that half of advertising money was wasted, but no one could tell which half. 
Emphasis mine.

The mistake is a common one, because it looks at advertising from the perspective of the consumer of media and advertising; the audience. That's how we perceive the bargain. There is content out there we are interested in; newspaper, magazine, radio, TV, etc. Someone wrote or recorded something I'm interested in -- sports, movies, guns, cooking, music, whatevs -- and as I go and read, watch, listen, I will put up with some advertising in order to enjoy the content.


The advertising (or the intent to advertise) came first. Some nice people with nice products wanted you to know about them. They had money that they could spend on making that happen. There was no media. So they got together with content creators and said, "Hey, this is what I want to sell. These are the people I want to sell to. You make some content and we'll pay for it with this advertising."

Don't believe me? Look up the history of soap operas. The originators of them were advertising agencies. There was nothing on the radio that appealed to the women they wanted to sell homemaking products to. So they invented radio dramas modeled, loosely, after the serial romance stories found in women's magazines.

Which were started by advertisers. To sell things to the same group of people. But radio was more immediate and newer and interesting and could pump out shows every day without the cost of printing or mailing.

There is, of course, content that you pay for directly. Books, movies, music, etc. Sure. And that looks (to you) a lot like the other content. Because you consume it similarly. But from a production and pricing standpoint, it's very different.

There are historic entertainments that didn't start out with advertising (some sports being a good example). It got added over time. And so that's closer to the model Cegłowski suggests. But, remember... that content had been paid for earlier by tickets or patrons. So... why did we add advertising? To pay for them? But they were already paid for?

It's a subtle distinction, but important. In any content relationship involving advertising... advertising comes first. Nobody (much) builds a magazine or radio show or TV program around an idea and then hopes for ad revenue. They build in order to sell ads.

Our enjoyment is secondary. That's not immoral. It's just not always comfy.