It’s Future of Advertising Time Again. About the (Allegedly New) Crisis of Advertising.

So apparently it’s “The Future of Advertising” time. Again.

There’s a a Fast Company article with that title compiling interviews with a host of well-respected industry people circulating, that was as usual followed by a storm of retweets and opinions. While the arguments are all valid and interesting and while I certainly have an opinion about the topic myself, I immediately had to think of something I wrote in 2008 (in German) when I was analyzing the then darling of the advertising industry – ‘viral’ advertising – for my bachelor thesis. So because I still think it’s true, I thought it might be a good idea to translate the piece. Here is the trimmed down version:

One thing that concepts like ‘guerilla marketing’, ‘viral’ marketing or ‘viral’ advertising all have in common is a more or less implicit assumption of a crisis of advertising: ‘annoyance by advertising’, ‘flood of advertising’ and ‘avoidance of advertising’ are the commonly used concepts in the discourse.

Say ‘design’ and people think Rams, Ives, Eames. Say advertising and they think Cillit Bang.

… Russell Davies wrote in his blog in 2008. And he’s certainly not wrong. However, people’s attitude towards advertising is a bit paradox. While advertising (in general) provokes exactly the above mentioned reactions, advertising (in particular cases) is often remembered with joy, as Zurstiege (2005: 26ff) shows in his research. While zapping and DVRs lead to growing pains for advertisers, there are hundreds of ads on YouTube with thousands or even millions of views. [At the point when I wrote this, there was no Old Spice or Write The Future to refer to but only a Gorilla playing the drums.] All this approaches like ‘viral’ advertising, ‘viral’ marketing, guerilla marketing and whatnot tried to fulfill their effect by packing themselves as an “entertainment present” (Zurstiege 2007: 143) and to therefore counteract advertising avoidance and advertising annoyance.

I believe if you want to be successful in the world of viral, you need to play by the rules of entertainment, not the rules of selling.

(Kevin Roddy 2006)

Entertainment, however, isn’t exactly a new approach. All along, at least in theory advertising tried to bring outstanding things to the consumers’ eyes. This is – after all, what led to the aestheticisation of advertising through the employment of renowned artists in the 19th century in the first place (Zurstiege 2007: 22f).

Leaving advertising annoyance and advertising avoidance aside for a second, there’s of course also a lack of trust in the effects of advertising. As a representative for this part of the discourse who’s better to quote than Philip Kotler:

The average American is exposed to several hundred ad messages a day and is trying to tune out. TV advertising is losing its effectiveness because of growing advertising clutter, the increasing number of channels, the availability of zapping mechanisms, and reduced watching of television by certain groups. The result is that marketers must consider other methods of getting consumer attentions.

(Kotler 2005)

This chain of reasoning – information overload, explosion of channels, media use – is found in pretty much every introducing statement of pretty much every alternative approach:

Because of an increasing amount of media and advertising, DVRs and the changed media use, even more since the rise of the internet, we need new methods to solve the crisis of advertising.

That’s how it goes. And be it online-advertising, PR, event marketing or the much quoted ‘integrated communication’, all of them are united by the fact that they lay claim to the leadership role in clients’ marketing budget. [And the same may be said about 'transmedia' and 'crowdsourceing' and whatever other approach ...]. But while information overload might partly explain the development of new approaches that aim at media content spreading digitally, even this isn’t a new phenomenon. What we have institutionalized as ‘information overload’ and ‘advertising clutter’ already had a name in the 19th century: Schilderpest (‘signboard plague’) (Zurstiege 2008: 129).

Advertising was finished from the outset. ["Die Werbung war von Anfang an am Ende."]

(Schmidt 2004: 53ff)

The accusation of lying, the persistant suspicion of manipulation, the ‘sensory overload’ and the identity crisis because of the supposed incapability to produce socially and culturally relevant outcomes (cf. Schmidt 2004: 54), are all derived from the social functional system advertising itself. [It's in it's DNA, if you want to say it like that.]

Advertising produces scarcity of attention by achieving attention. Advertising needs bad advertising to stand out with good. Advertising – as a system – necessarily produces its own problems and solves it by adapting to changing social conditions (ibid. 73f). Advertising – and this is also shown by the appearance of ‘viral advertising’ [insert buzzword here] – lives on new problems which can then be opposed by the creation of new and differentiating approaches (ibid. 74). The crisis of advertising [and therefore the question about it's future] isn’t new, but an essential part of the system, the permanently repeats itself under different circumstances.

Sources:

  • Davies, Russel (2008): on the goodness and badness of advertising
  • Kotler, Philip: Advertising vs. PR: Kotler on Kotler.
  • Kotler, Philip/Bliemel, Friedhelm (2006): Marketing-Management. Analyse, Planung und Verwirklichung. 10., überarbeitete und aktualisierte Auflage. München [u.a.]: Pearson Studium.
  • Roddy, Kevin (2006) in Leonard, Devin (2006): Viral Ads: It’s an Epidemic. In: Fortune. New York: 2. Oktober 2006, 154. Jg., Heft 7/2006, 61.
  • Schmidt, Siegfried J. (2004): Die Werbung ist vom Anfang an am Ende. In: Die Depression der Werbung : Berichte von der Couch / Berliner KommunikationsFORUM e.V. Sebastian Kemmler … (Hrsg.).Göttingen: Business Village, 53-77.
  • Zurstiege, Guido (2005): Zwischen Kritik und Faszination. Was wir beobachten, wenn wir die Werbung beobachten, wie sie die Gesellschaft beobachtet. Köln: Halem.
  • Zurstiege, Guido (2007): Werbeforschung. Konstanz: UVK-Verl.-Ges.
  • Zurstiege, Guido (2008): Der Konsum Dritter Orte. In: Kai-Uwe Hellmann (2008): Räume des Konsums: Über den Funktionswandel von Räumlichkeit im Zeitalter des Konsumismus. Wiesbaden: VS, Verl. für Sozialwissenschaften.
(Guido Zurstiege and Siegfried Schmidt are renowned professors for communication, media and culture in Germany and among the few who have specifically focused on advertising.)
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Related posts:

  1. This – too – Is Advertising.
  2. Gemeinsamkeiten und Herkunft: Die (vermeintlich) neue Krise der Werbung (Teil 8)

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  • http://twitter.com/addwax addwax

    Nice stuff Thomas. You're right in “Advertising produces scarcity of attention by achieving attention. Advertising needs bad advertising to stand out with good.”

    but the all new thing I think is what's changed since back in the days

    (“What we have institutionalized as ‘information overload’ and ‘advertising clutter’ already had a name in the 19th century: Schilderpest (’signboard plague’) (Zurstiege 2008: 129).)

    is that for the first time advertising doesn't have to “solve its own problems with different advertising” What we have now is new ways of solving problems, and not necessarily with advertising. So I argue that the bigger picture and the structural/strategic shift is about marketing rather than advertising.

    • http://www.sophisticated.at/blogs/thomas Thomas Wagner

      Hi Olle! Thanks for dropping by.

      First of all I fully agree with pretty everything in your blog post. The future of advertising question is asked again and again, most were not good at the old and won't be at the 'new' way of doing things and the fundamentals remain the same anyways: It's about connecting with people and the fact that advertising – or the idea business – isn't an end in itself. It will always be about creative ways of solving problems and I'd even argue they should be at the creative end of commerciality (http://robcampbell.wordpress.c…/) and not the other way round.

      In my post I didn't necessarily mean that advertising solves the problem it creates with better advertising, but that the advertising system needs this 'crisis of advertising' and the 'future of advertising' thing to 'create' new approaches (or new names for old approaches) that suddenly promise to be the new holy grail: be it UX design, 'utility', 'conversation', 'transmedia' or 'gameification'. And this might very well also be true about the marketing discourse. (Might be also because loads of people use the words as a synonym … anyways.)

      So maybe because I always felt that it should be that way – connect with people, solve problems –and because it was always marketing's job to adapt to changes in the environment that I fail to see the big strategic shift as anything other than the change that is pretty much always happening and the drama the industry creates around it.