I am troubled by posts like the latest one from Doc Searls that praise the advertising of olden days and seem to imply that advertising on the Internet was hacked.
The Old Days
The good ol’ days were actually terrible. Advertising has always been a borderline and devious field. Advertising did create great brands, but for what kind of products?
Snake oil remedies. Booze. “The best sigarettes for your health”. And take two tablets of Alka-Seltzer after you ate more than you should have in the first place.
Mass-produced orange juice. Because, you know, squeezing the damn oranges yourself was too much of a hassle. And frozen mass-produced orange juice.
Tropicana. Or Minute Maid. Stuff that tastes exactly the same if you’re in Boston or Buenos Aires, Barcelona or Beijing. Ever wondered how that is possible?
What about margarine? Processed food? Frozen food? Frozen processed food. Refined everything. Diet soda, fat-free cheese and decaf coffee.
After WW2 a lot of shit was sold to consumers. Advertising certainly played a large role in making it possible, but I’m not sure there’s much to celebrate.
And last but not least: it’s true, advertising helped pay the bills. But not just for the New York Times. It also gave us the New York Post. And The Sun.
Then Ad Tech
Ad Tech did not come out of nowhere. Contrary to what Doc Searls seems to imply, advertising on the web was not hacked while it was sleeping.
The web was oversold to companies on the promise of interactive advertising and a one-to-one future. It didn’t work and we ended up where we are now.
Why was it assumed that consumers who were dodging advertising on television would want to interact with companies and their ads on the web?
The dotcom bubble burst, ad space on the web wildly outgrew demand and prices tanked. It was off to the races to see who could squeeze something out of the wasteland.
First it was affiliate marketing programmes and guaranteed results schemes such as Advertising.com. Then come Adsense. Finally, Google acquired DoubleClick.
Interactive advertising, then online advertising, then display advertising were rebranded as programmatic advertising. But they are still selling the same dumb banner ads.
Only, targeted. More targeted than ever. Targeting, in fact, is the only thing they are selling. Hey, we know this shit ain’t working, but at least you’re hitting the right target.
Except when your ads end up on videos of Neo-Nazis or Jihadists, that is.
Now, don’t get me wrong: I certainly dislike Ad Tech, and I have a lot of respect for people like Doc Searls who are looking for an alternative way to sell ads at Linux Journal.
But I’m not sure it’s going to work, and I am especially doubtful that it’s going to work for larger publishers. I have the feeling that there’s probably no going back.
No going back to a world — one of normal advertising on the Internet — that never was and probably never will be. Repeat with me: The Internet is for porn and direct marketing.