Ever see one of those human evolutionary charts? You know, the ones that provide a visual timeline of our journey from primordial ooze to glass tower?
Let me suggest that this same chart provides a good analogy for our industry, except we need to hold it up to a mirror to get the full impact, because advertising in general, and media in particular, are heading straight back to the swamp.
What's more, whereas we've been perfecting our posture for seven million years, our virtual devolution has taken only six decades.
To illustrate this thesis, let's equate the sponsored content model that spawned the golden age of radio and television back in the late 1930s and '40s with today's Homo sapiens. Back then, content was king and advertisers controlled their own destinies. Agencies were named after real people, and audiences were easily reachable and happy to oblige.
Enter the commercial pod in the 1950s (Homo clutterus), and the beginning of our trek backwards begins in earnest, with more advertisers competing for and encouraging shorter attention spans through a growing assault on our senses and sensibilities.
The downward pressure continues to build with the introduction of FM radio (Paranthropus Marconius) and independent television stations soon thereafter. Momentum takes control and the audience grows more fragmented; the media gene pool more diluted and polluted.
The TV remote control (finally, a real use for opposable thumbs) and cable television (Australopithecus Ted Turnerus) arrive on the scene and our backs begin to stoop under the weight of too much media The Internet (Dryopithecus Googleus) explodes before our very eyes and we feel our knuckles reaching for the ground.
What did our soap-peddling ancestors understand about the causal relationship between content and audience that we've lost sight of over the past 60 years? With online video content all the current rage, perhaps the answer lies within one of three cogent questions advertisers can and should ask themselves and/or their agencies:
1) Am I better off rubbing elbows with video content, other advertisers, and audiences on a third-party publisher's site?
2) Am I better off rubbing elbows with video content, other advertisers, and audiences on the content provider's site?
3) Am I better off hosting both content and audience all by myself on my site?
With industry-average CTRs based on "legitimate" impressions (no RON crap allowed) now congregating south of .1%, question #1 answers itself with a resounding "NO." The same goes for question #2.
But if you answered "Yes" to question #3, congratulations! You've escaped the revolving door to Darwin's waiting room (thanks, Dennis Miller) and are well on your way to media survival in the 21st century!
Interestingly enough, content providers and publishers also stand to benefit through this re-discovery of what works by abandoning their misguided territorial claims to content and allowing it to work its magic where it can work best, front and center within the branded surroundings of the advertiser who's picking up the tab.
Whether we choose to believe it (let alone accept it) or not, we are now playing witness to the demise of advertising as intermediary and to the resurrection of advertising as destination. That's because no other model except advertising as destination embraces the three truths of media on-demand:
1) Nobody demands more advertising.
2) Everybody demands more video.
3) Nobody and everybody are the same people.
Because we're so invested in the advertising as intermediary model our industry keeps targeting behavior hit-and-miss in the rearview mirror rather than tapping behavior that we know for certain already exists. We've devolved to where we now define ad-supported media as advertisers supporting content, rather than content supporting advertisers.
The course is clear. The way forward is to head right back where we started.
About Mike Einstein and the Brothers Einstein
Mike Einstein is one-half of the Brothers Einstein, a creative strategy and branding boutique. The Brothers Einstein work with very select rapid-growth clients to help define and execute healthy brand strategies in a toxic media environment.
Read all the Einstein Brothers' MediaBizBloggers commentaries at the Brothers Einstein - MediaBizBloggers.