Tuesday, September 08, 2015

The Ubiquitousness of Advertisement and It's Evolution

In the streets, on the subway, on busses and taxis, on radio and TV, in your mailbox, on any website and in social media, on the bags you carry and on the shirts you wear - advertisement is everywhere and we cannot escape.

If you follow the original definition of advertisement by the American Marketing Association, ads are all about informing and persuading target groups about a product or a service. However, since 1886, when Coca Cola launched its first ad in print, the role and appearance of advertisement has dramatically changed.

Coca Cola's first print advertisement from 1886

With technology and social media, advertisement has not just become more targeted. It also feels like it has made its way into the last corners of our private life with all the insights of what we do and feel. Understandably, most people increasingly get annoyed and immune to ads, use ad blockers, and try to avoid or ignore any form of advertisement.

Advertisers are seeking new ways to get their message to the audience without harming brand image or the customer relationship. Content marketing (brands trying to provide valuable content associated with their products) and native advertisement (mostly advertisement that is camouflaged as journalistic content) are just two strategies to be observed in that context. Recently, the discussion about native advertising has gained traction again. This contribution by John Oliver, wich is not just humorous but also insightful, made me think about two different perspectives on the topic.

Perspective #1
Let's face it: we will never be able to escape from advertisement. Especially with a culture of free content and social media infrastructure, ads are necessary to finance what we consume. So in that regard, it would be great if marketing becomes more valuable for the consumer and contributes to our daily life in a positive way. We are already used to fashion brands sponsoring art galleries or museums, so why can't they participate in the value chain of entertainment and information?
Online media publisher Vice is taking an interesting approach with what they call "content sponsored by brands" (opposed to branded content which means native advertisement). It means that brands are sponsoring a team working on a specific story while Vice claims that the journalistic process completely goes without external influence. One could argue this kind of content will never be truly independant. However, as long as the connection is being communicated transparently, it is up to the consumer to evaluate and filter the information.

Perspective #2
On the other hand, ads which aren't clearly marked as advertising are manipulating audiences in a way that is ethically questionable. Most people expect the news to be independant and there are good reasons for a press and for content which is not just entertaining or informative but also uninfluenced. Advertising is legitimate as long as people understand that there is a brand behind that is trying to influence consumer behavior.
Consumers are less and less able to make conscious purchasing decisions if every piece of content is being influenced by brands. It is already hard to tell, how uninfluenced and conscious our behavior is as media consumers. In Germany, we currently have a discussion about the influence of youtube stars and bloggers who exploit the loyalty of their immature audiences. They use their credibility and the trust they gained to promote products and brands without mentioning that they are being paid for it. New laws that dictate a clear communication of this kind of placement are being discussed. While the content contributors argue, such a labeling would destroy the originality of their seemingly user-generated content, most people appreciate the initiative.

Generally I think, if advertisers try to create ads with an inherent value proposition (e.g. entertaining like a Superbowl ad), it is a positive development. However, the line of a consciously consuming consumer is easily being crossed and with new forms of marketing the (legal) boundaries have to be redefined. What do you think?

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