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

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. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.