Reports of the death of advertising as we know it are greatly exaggerated

In a recent report from eMarketer, Geoff Ramsey says there is a fundamental change taking place in the advertising industry.

Read what he says, then I’ll give you my take.

For decades, the ad industry was built on the interruption-disruption model. Consumers understood that if they wanted to experience free content—in the form of television shows, music on the radio and magazine articles—they would have to put up with ads, most of which were perceived as irrelevant, boring, annoying or all three. In this standard construct, ads were seen as a “necessary evil” to support the content consumers really wanted to see.

But the interruption-disruption model is dying out, thanks to shifting consumer trends. Consumers are increasingly in control of their media content and can easily eradicate ads they don’t want to see. They also have less trust in advertisers and their messages. Further, consumers are creating their own content with the help of blogs, social networks, wikis and other digital-communication platforms.

As a result, advertisers and their agencies who want to engage with today’s consumers will have to start turning their ads into content. Ultimately, they will need to be able to produce content that is so compelling, relevant and entertaining that consumers will seek it out and want to share it with others. The new ad model is about creating great content and finding clever ways to embed it in the fabric of communities and content platforms where consumers are hanging out and actively participating.

Okay, now my take.

I don’t believe for a minute that there will ever be a time when consumers are totally in control of the ads they are exposed to or that advertisers aren’t interrupting and disrupting.

I understand that consumers are gaining more control through opt-out and opt-in programs or technologies such as TiVo. And I know it will continue. But only to a point.

Will magazines and newspapers stop printing ads? Will television embed all ads into content? Will direct mailers sit on their hands waiting for prospects to ask for their ads? No.

Mr. Ramsey has it wrong when he says the “interruption-disruption” model is decades old. It is thousands of years old. The ancient Greeks shouted in the streets about the sale of cattle. Romans pasted signs announcing gladiatorial games. In the Middle Ages, street barkers drew passers by into shops.

Advertising has changed little over the ages. It has always been about reaching out and capturing people’s attention. The technology changes. The laws modify techniques. And those with new ad services to sell are always predicting doomsday for old ad services. But it never happens and it never will.

If history doesn’t convince you, then human psychology or common sense should. People are lazy and they simply won’t spend lots of time seeking out new products. And even if lots of advertisers were foolish enough to stop being interruptive, then smart advertisers would simply have an easier time growing market share.

My prediction? People love and respond to advertising far more than they’ll ever admit. And the interruption-disruption model may be tinkered with and modified, but it will never die. Ever. Because no matter what you call it, selling means pushing products. And if you aren’t pushing, you aren’t selling. And if you aren’t selling, you’re out of business.

Read a related post about the future of advertising intrusiveness.

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3 Responses to “Reports of the death of advertising as we know it are greatly exaggerated”

  1. Grant A Johnson on January 16th, 2008 9:26 pm


    Right on, but the web has given much more control to the consumer. And yes, people like to know they are known, that’s why advertising — especially direct response advertising/marketing will continue to prosper.

    Grant A. Johnson

  2. Ted Grigg on January 19th, 2008 1:41 am

    Disruption is fundamental to all communications, not just selling. Every time we ask someone a question or talk to them, we are disrupting their thought process or something they are doing.

    Think of how the world turns — the mall-intercept interview, the dog that wants to be petted, the sick child, the gardener knocking on the door for his check, the e-mail asking the recipient to complete a questionnaire and so on. Some interruptions are not pleasant, others are.

    That’s the way it is with selling products. Some we like and don’t mind interruption and others we don’t.

    And as you say, this activity is as old as man himself. It will never go away.

    If companies ceased disrupting and interrupting, then they would cease selling. But no one ever should think that these disruptive activities are always distasteful.

    It is true that some distasteful interruptions are dying out such as door-to-door selling and unwelcome phone calls. These were indeed out of control. But other means of communication like mail and online (except for email) are easily controlled by the customer.

    New distasteful disruptions have come with the growth of new media. Nine out of every ten emails bombard the inboxes with spam and the problem continues to grow in size and complexity. And the Internet has enabled identity theft to grown to epidemic proportions.

    So things are changing, but consumers are hardly getting more control over every aspect of their new age lives.

  3. Dean Rieck on January 19th, 2008 2:21 am


    Well said. As always.

    You have a way of cutting right to the heart of an issue.

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