The Arms Race and The Transition

We are in the midst of a major transition in terms of advertising and both advertisers and consumers know it. The effectiveness of simple mass broadcasted commercials are coming to an end. It is not enough anymore to lump everyone together and project ads aimed towards such simplistic descriptions as men/women, baby boomers, teens, vegetarians, and so on. Instead, the concentration now has become effectively typing people to try to aim and make advertisements that connect with people and tell them what a product 'means' and not what it does (Frontline). Aside from the evolution of the advertisement itself, the one constant that holds to any advertiser is the ability to show the user the advertisement. The competition for the consumer's attention is fierce and the advertising space that once was relatively free (for example, television programs themselves) has become more and more saturated. So saturated that to say we're being bombarded by advertisements is no exaggeration. To our defense, advancements in technology like pop-up blockers, ad blockers, and TiVo have allowed us to more or less control the amount of advertisements we actually see. The push and pull between advertisers and consumers makes it essentially an arms race to see if advertisers can hit consumers with ads, and if consumers can prevent advertisers from showing them ads. Who will win?

In one corner, the advertiser is the one trying to get their product seen and heard so it can be sold. The advertisement should obviously be economically viable and during the early mass media age, it was effective enough to create a commercial that sold their product by saying what it does. A quick look at television advertisements though shows a relatively quick jump from simple commercials, to show-stopping, high profile marketing. This is what advertisers have to do. An example of this was early Campbell Soup commercials where it was a delightful commercial showing a family eating Campbell's soup. Simple, but nothing attention grabbing. Now contrast this to the ad introducing the Macintosh that ran during Superbowl XVIII. The high profile commercial made such an impact that it it has become a defining moment for computers becoming main-stream and advertising in general. Now companies pay $2.6 million for a 30-second spot (as they did for Superbowl XLI) to try to make a commercial that has the same impact. They pay this much because the Superbowl today has become one of the few venues where a lot of people don't actually sit down to watch the football, but they watch for the commercials. Television has changed so much that the 100 channels in a standard package is, in fact, standard, and leaving TiVo out of it, people can channel surf or go to the kitchen to grab something to eat instead of stay on the same three or four channels and actually watch the commercials.

Mass advertising aside, new forms of advertisement have risen through the new media age as well. The internet has been a big cause of it, and while obviously commercials still exist on television, as we have been describing it, some of the ways advertisers have slipped advertisements into our online worlds are simply new ways of packaging the same advertisements. BMW created ads that took place as if they were movies, with the car as the centerpiece for anything the characters did, showing off the full extent of the car's performance. While probably a great advertisement on TV, placing it on the internet changes it from a generally aimed commercial to a virally marketed ad. People who do want to watch it, will seek the ad, and spread it to other people, effectively using consumers as the transferring medium by word of mouth. This change in direction is important as it shows a shift of advertisement that has made the advertising more aimed at interacting with the consumer instead of only showing the consumer. Put in another way, this is the main difference between advertainment and entertaining advertising.

It should also be known that with the internet as a new of showing advertising, it is also a new tool to track our behavior and better catergorize consumers. Instead of only being to classify based upon what shows we enjoy, now consumer tracking can track what web pages we look at, videos we watch, products we buy, and then cater towards that by aiming a specific ad to me, instead of a general population. The amount of data a company can track too is impressive. Yahoo, on average for one month, collects data 2,520 times per user, for an average of 158.6 million unique users per month. With this amount of data per user, the possibilities to aim a certain ad that a user will be interested are quite high, and quite extensive. There's a much better chance now that the banner ad at the top of the page, while essentially not different from the banner ads I'll see, for example, during a sports broadcast, is something I will be interested in.

With so much advertising being aimed at consumers, consumers also must have ways to defend itself from this bombardment of advertising, if they so choose. We've mentioned the extent of how television commercials have evolved, their transformation onto the web for viral marketing, and the idea of specifically aimed advertising. For television commercials, the answer used to be just ignoring the commercials as was mentioned when talking about the commercial. We can change channels, or just walk away from the TV to avoid this. But this still took effort on our part to passively ignore it. TiVo and DVR technology has become the time-efficient way to skip commercials and watch TV shows on our schedule. Instead of watching television at a certain time, we can record, pause, fast-forward, rewind, and all without the hassle of using a VCR and still at the same quality as watching a live signal. This shift in the consumer controlling when to watch TV and what they want to watch is key and can be seen as one of the main reasons that advertising has also started to slip directly into the shows we watch, such as product placements in the various reality shows (Frontline).

Preventative measures have had to surface for our internet surfing needs as advertisements have become intertwined into the content we look at on the internet. Unlike the content that is slipped into television programs, some advertisements aren't integral to the content of the site, but try to garner our attention right as we enter the web site. One of the earliest forms of this were pop-up ads where a window would pop-up over what one may be looking at and annoyingly steal our attention from the content we were searching for. Quickly pop-up killers were made as additions to our web browsers, but this is only a small example of how consumers can prevent ads from invading their space. The ability to remove ads altogether is the purpose of a Firefox extension (an additional piece of software that works in conjunction with Firefox) called AdBlock. A constantly updated database keeps track of the advertisements on various web sites, and when a user visits that web site, removes the piece of code that then prevents the ad from showing up at all. Seemingly the most effective form of ad blocking, where the advertisement isn't even allowed to show at all.

This arms race of sorts between advertisers and consumers has quickly shown a cause for change. While this change is still coming as the classic model of advertisement still requires us to use pop-up blockers and pieces of software like AdBlock, there is a serious shift of this model to where advertisers are believing that advertisements should develop an important relationship with the consumer. In this way, there are two very clear paths that have come out of this form of thinking, especially seen as a cause of the internet. One is how the consumer has started take more of an active role in seeking out, accepting, and even creating advertisements that amuse and entertain them. The other is the importance of making sure the aim of an ad fits in with the consumer's views and lifestyles. If a consumer is to view an ad that introduces them to a product that he or she buys and ends up really liking, is this not a win-win situation for both the advertiser and the consumer? Making sure that the consumer's time is not wasted makes for a better way of advertisement.

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