The unasked question

What happens when customers ultimately reject advertising?

While better minds than mine debate the various issues of our communications revolution, nobody dares to ask the question of what happens when customers reject all mass market advertising? Ouch, eh?

This thought came to mind while reading an interesting article in TV Week on efforts by ad agency Carat to regularly bring together the best minds in the business to discuss issues relating to new forms of television. According to the article, Forrester Research predicts that in five years, 40 percent of television viewing will be nonlinear. As a user of television, I think that’s pretty cool, but this is the quote that caught my attention:

“It is in all of our vested interests that these new TV environments have the advertising point of view in mind and the consumers and not be driven purely by technology and the technologists,” Carat Americas CEO David Verklin said.
That statement is more profound than it seems on the surface, for it suggests the reality facing the ad industry — and, frankly, television — as we continue to drift away from the mass marketing paradigm. Do television “consumers” want advertising at all? They may understand the trade-off and they may tell researchers that they do, but their behavior says otherwise. Just ask the folks with TiVos. It certainly is in the industry’s best interest that new environments have the advertising point of view.

But what is the “advertising point of view” if not one of command and control? Much of the article examines Interactive TV (ITV) solutions in which viewers respond to some form of commercial prompting during program content. I’m not convinced the ideas being touted are all that viable, and so my question still stands. What happens when customers reject advertising? Will networks and studios still produce information and entertainment programming? How will people get ideas about new products, etc.? The answer to these question is that new paradigms will emerge. The question of what happens to old thinkers is more complex.

Doc Searls says it best in looking at the Internet and commenting about people.

Face the fact that the Net isn’t yet another medium for pumping “content” from a few producers to countless consumers. Instead, it’s an environment — a very real marketplace — where the demand side has the power to supply. The consumers of yesterday are now full-power customers, plus something much more important: they are *participants*. They participate in the form of product advice, personal involvement, and by creating new inventions and businesses of their own. You either embrace that participation, or risk being shoved aside by it.

This is precisely why the advertising industry is (and ought to be) concerned. People want to determine their own level of participation, but advertising wants to have a say in that.

Stay tuned.


  1. Just found this post. You make excellent points that I agree with in general as a consumer of TV and the net. On my computer, I am using software to block all advertising that I can. For TV, we have the Dish Network with PVR (more or less the same as TIVO) and we prefer watching recorded programs simply to be able to zap all the commercials.

    However, lately there are a few we actually stop the fast-forwarding to watch: Orbitz (have you checked out all that is going on in these very cleverly designed animated cartoons?), Bud (I think — there’s 3 or 4 guys camping and one has a face completely disfigured by a bug bite), and another (don’t know the product, so might not be “good” advertising but is hilarious) in which a guy attempting to knock down a beehive ends up upside down in a container. For us the key to advertising worth watching is have it go by quickly with a lot going on and MAKE IT FUNNY. There are precious few like that. Just my $.02. And you are 100% right about us wanting to determine our own level of participation. Do not forcefeed me anything or I’m gone!

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