Thursday rant: Advertising’s war with consumers

How truly hollow and arrogant ring the words of those entrepreneurs business concerns who are working so hard to bring command and control back to media. None of these people understand — or wish to understand — that the horse has left the barn; it’s all about empowered consumers today, and unless that is the starting point for new business development, anything else sounds just ridiculous.

New media economist Umair Haque writes today about a new application from Blackarrow designed to stop people from fast-forwarding commercials via PVRs.

Who’s missing from the pseudo value chain at the bottom of the screen?

You guessed it — consumers.

I guess I could wax lyrical about the economics of connected consumption, why the shift of control to the edges is inexorable, etc…

But honestly…lolz. How can you think strategically about any kind of business (let alone advertising) in 2007 without factoring consumers into the value chain?

The answer’s simply — you can’t.

Meanwhile, Dan Gillmor is in Toronto (where I wish I was) at the Online News Association annual gathering. He’s on a panel described thusly: Learn how to harness the passion and creativity of your community to become a local sensation and a meaningful online gathering place.

He rightly grasps the arrogance of the wording here and replied:

With respect to the writer of that description, what hokum.

The word “harness” is singularly inappropriate in this context. It reflects traditional media’s belief that the audience — the community — wants or needs to be treated like a herd of horses.

We don’t need taming. We need places where we can have vital conversations about our communities.

Are you beginning to see what I mean? I’ve been around media for 37 years, and it’s always been this way (us thinking we had such “harnessing” power), but it seemed innocent years ago. Today, however, we’re seeing it for what it is — the willful manipulation of others for our own benefit. And guess what? The manipulatees don’t like it and probably never did.

I came across a pending workshop on “landing page optimization,” something I certainly think is important. But then I got to thinking about how this is just another attempt by marketeurs to hang onto their sense of importance in a world that’s been turned upside down. The assumption behind the concept is that a smart cookie can manipulate people into doing what he or she wants them to do. I know that’s harsh, but it’s true.

If we can’t manage how people relate to us, then what good are we?

Gord Hotchkiss also noted this in today’s MediaPost SearchInsider:

Last week, I explored the disconnect between how advertisers define Nirvana; the ability to control consumer and persuade them at will by inundating them with advertising; and what consumers dream about: authentic and reliable information on needed products and services. There…(is)…the nuisance cost to the consumer of wading through an earlobe-deep sea of irrelevant and uninvited advertising: zapped TV commercials, blaring billboards, glaring signage, email spam, ubiquitous interstitials and pop-ups, preloads…or one of the zillions of other ways advertisers choose to scream at you.

Notchkiss goes on to talk about the idea of advertisers as “infomediaries,” a term originated in the 1999 book, “Net Worth.”

What we have here is nothing less than a war, between advertisers and consumers. Actually, I think it’s been underway for decades — described in the battle plan books of mass marketing gurus. The problem is that consumers have already won, and our unwillingness to see that is leading us down paths that are increasingly visible as self-serving.

In this war, we have to surrender to win.

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