Brands and product owners spend billions and billions of dollars a year trying to generate awareness and sales for their products and services. Those dollars get spent with agencies, intermediaries and owners of eyeball space. The agencies are the ones who create the messaging and creative materials as well as determine what a campaign might look like. The intermediaries are those that take that messaging and creative output and match it with the owners of eyeball space. Owners of eyeball space are those that have some form of place, space or venue on which to display advertising.
Until recently that has been a one-way process; create some advertising material, figure out (and this is very crude despite the claims) how to get that material to individuals and companies likely to act on it, display those advertisements in locations where people will see them (billboards, television, websites, buildings, mail etc.). And that entire industry seems content with an absolutely enormous amount of “waste.” Waste in the sense that the overwhelming majority of ad impressions are ignored. How much junk mail do you just discard without even opening? How many website ads do you ignore/block/not-even-see; how many billboards do you just pass by as visual noise; how many TV ads do you ignore/skip/do-something-else? This whole industry knows, despite claims to “intelligently target,” that a tiny fraction of those ad impressions are noticed and an even tinier number are acted on.
But for the first time we actually have a technology, the Internet, which could change that. We have an interactive technology where a brand or product could have an individual conversation with a single consumer. One-on-one. Two-way.
Sadly, the industry simply replicated the traditional form of advertising flow. The web page was treated as another place to present adverts in the same way as a newspaper or a billboard. Sure there is some intelligence – but only the same as that used in picking a particular newspaper or a particular billboard region/location; some crude demographic targeting, with hope of getting slightly better than zero impact.
And unfortunately this led to others figuring out that maybe this one-way flow could be improved on. I say unfortunately because this started a privacy war. Consumer behavior online is “targeted.” Our activity, likes, wants, connections, friends and posts are tracked in various ways. Ways that are simply not clear to most individuals. Ways that most people simply didn’t actively agree to. In response, many individuals fight back with technology. They block cookies. They then block super cookies. They use VPNs or go “incognito.” They use ad blockers.
It’s an unnecessary, ongoing online privacy war that doesn’t benefit anyone.
Why not take a different approach?
Why doesn’t that cash distribution I mention above change a bit? Instead of the brand handing all their money to the ad agency, that hands a lot of it to the intermediaries, who hand a lot of it to the owner of eyeball space, why isn’t some of that money given to the eyeballs themselves? To you and me?
And in return for that money, we provide information about our daily activity and ourselves. But we decide how much or how little of that data to share. And we can choose to share nothing – and that should always be honored. The amount, type, quality, periodicity of information shared determines that value of the money given in exchange.
How might that money be exchanged? Well, every time I see an ad online I could receive a tiny amount of money or maybe some points or credit to a store. If I click on an ad I get some more. To make that work I would have to “log-in” to the Internet; because there has to be trust between me (the person sharing information) and the advertiser. I can’t be a spam consumer (yes I know that after years of the opposite, that might be attractive to some!).
The difference with what we see today is that the ad can be targeted to me very specifically. If I was searching for new cars recently maybe I see car ads. If I was searching for Mercedes and BMW then maybe that new ad is for a Lexus rather than a pickup truck or a non-luxury brand.
But knowing a lot about me could also fundamentally change what advertising means. Rather than use a display ad, the nearest Lexus dealer could contact me personally and suggest that they bring a car to my house for a test drive.
If I bought some songs online, maybe a new band that releases an album that my musical preferences suggest I might like, could add one of the tracks off the new album into my iTunes library. Rather than the scattergun approach of those nice, free tracks on cards in Starbucks we get a much, much more personal solution.
You could imagine this sort of personal approach for travel, holidays, food, restaurants … everything, in fact.
I recognise that there is a lot of brand advertising trying to associate attributes to a product or service at a subconscious level; that approach will still likely need to happen. But all of that massive, inefficient visual clutter – that we see everywhere, that is meant to be a call to action – could be replaced by precisely targeted experiences.
But only if the privacy war we are currently in the middle of is replaced by recognising the value of the consumer within the advertising value chain.