Advertising Vs. Information

TechCrunch, which makes a sizable income selling advertising that runs adjacent to its popular content, is offering a “sky is falling” piece by Wharton professor Eric Clemmons in order to stimulate debate.
Here are a few choice selections from Clemmons’ guest post:

Advertising will fail.
My basic premise is that the internet is not replacing advertising but shattering it, and all the king’s horses, all the king’s men, and all the creative talent of Madison Avenue cannot put it together again.
It’s not that we no longer need information to initiate or to complete a transaction; rather, we will no longer need advertising to obtain that information. We will see the information we want, when we want it, from sources that we trust more than paid advertising. We will find out what we need to know, when we want to make a commercial transaction of any kind.

Wrong! The good professor doesn’t seem to realize how roach like the advertising industry is. Ad men and women will not go away and the business can not be killed off. Academics and other agents of change may want advertising to go away, but wanting is not sufficient to end this multi-billion dollar industry.
As for the professor’s argument, here’s what’s wrong with it: only the most engaged digital citizens will even attempt to replace advertising with information. Most people, including digitally empowered individuals, will still see ads and act upon them. Yes, it’s hard to understand why someone would respond positively to an infomercial, or a Google ad box for that matter, but the fact is – they do respond, over and over and over again. Think about a person who is receptive to an infomercial. He or she could easily turn to their computer and find untainted information to help them remove tub stains or make a better blooming onion, but that action takes effort. The product advertised on TV and available for two easy payments of $29.99 is the way to go for people who conclude that “it’s on TV, it must work!”
The professor also gives no credit whatsoever to the power of ads that speak intelligently to a receptive audience. Nor does he recognize the power of POS–the majority of purchase decisions are made at the point of sale and commercial messages clearly work to move product at retail.
I love the flattening of hierarchies provided by the Internet as much as the next guy, but the Internet is not advertising’s undoing. That’s wishful thinking at best.

About David Burn

Co-founder and editor of AdPulp. I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. I worked for seven agencies in five states before launching my own practice in 2009. Today, I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.


  1. i have to agree with you for the most part.
    advertising, it is. It is so hard to rid ourselves of such. Escape to the beach and even the souls of sandals in the sand bring in flash backs. Reminds me of the first chapter of some book i read about prostitution and footprints. See there it goes again. Unless we are all going to sit on this earth unclothed and barefoot entering higher states of consciousness repeating Jai Guru Dev Om, it’s very hard to leave the world for some grander universe .
    I think there must be some higher snarky meaning to the phrase “digital footprint”.

  2. I’ve been thinking about Clemmons’ post non-stop since I read it, and I think your response captures a lot of what I’ve been thinking. Ultimately, I still think advertising needs to improve – particularly online – but it’s necessity, while changing, still remains.

  3. The overall issue I have with Professor Clemmons—besides his bio pic which makes him look ridiculously outdated—is the typical Web versus traditional advertising argument. Why do so many continue to create a conflict between the two? The true challenge is to find ways that advertising can evolve along with the digital space. One will not negate the other. They just need to evolve. Traditional advertising is not necessarily going away (although it will be diminished as the traditional media outlets erode). At the same time, a lot of the digital practitioners have demonstrated they are incapable of evolving advertising in the digital space—perhaps because so many are essentially designers versus advertising/marketing minds. One thing is for certain: the answers will not likely come from academic professors, but rather, digital pioneers—who will come from the digital and advertising fields.

  4. DB:
    You are so right about the professor. I’m going to be posting about it tomorrow if you’re interested.

  5. What’s that saying??? Those that can, do… Those that can’t, teach????  Hmmm….

    There will always be advertising.  The means will continue to evolve over time, but it’s not going away anytime soon!

  6. I agree, David. Very interesting how academics are always forecasting the end of something or some drastic change, only for it NOT to come true. There will indeed always be advertising. Look at the preponderance of infomercials and shopping networks. Would they exist if they didn’t work?

  7. it was not that effective and to the point