Reality Advertising

I was out with some colleagues the other night, and made the mistake of getting on one of my soapbox issues — how saturation advertising is driving an unhealthy rate of consumption. I got blank stares and a joke: “Let’s hold hands and sing Kumbaya.” Guess I need to work on the message — not to mention reconciling such notions with my interest in publishing which depends on advertising.

I could not find estimates this morning of how many advertising messages Americans receive. My sense is that our brains are to advertising as pickles are to brine. Advertisers continue looking for new ways to improve the pickling process. For instance, MediaPost pointed me to a New York Post article about how some advertising agencies are using ethnographic researchers to study the habits of target buyers. Here is an excerpt:

“In America, researchers study people in their natural habitat — in the home, at work or out shopping — to understand why they do what they do … Part of the growth comes from the growing willingness of Americans to open their private lives to outside observers. “Reality TV has made it so much easier to explain what I’m doing,” said Rick Robinson, senior vice president of brand strategy at GfK NOP.”

So it’s a good work for anthropology majors, and no reason for me to get up on my high horse. Yet I cannot escape the sense that while our society is focused on discovering what we want, other nations are building and selling us these creature comforts. This does not seem sustainable but who am I to say.

The issue I cannot dodge is how to work in advertising driven publishing model. Selling ads, and I’ve done little, isn’t easy. Publishers must love their salespeople. They are the throbbing heart of most publications. The only path I see through this thicket is to closely align audiences and advertising on pragmatic things. A business-to-business publication would deliver real value, both in advertising and editorial content. A neighborhood-centric publication would also be appealing but could it be supported? What if your ad-salesperson came in and said, “Hey, we landed a contract for product X, Y or Z!” I cannot believe I would turn down the money. There just isn’t enough money in a startup to be choosey.

Nevertheless I believe consumption-driven advertising is a dead-end model. Sure there are people with money to burn, but more and more families are running into limits on what they can earn, spend or borrow. We have to build value-driven or comparison-driven advertising models. Because we value advertising when shopping for things we need. The trick will be separating that from having new “needs” foisted upon us.

Tom Abate
‘Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media