Doc Searls posted his thoughts questioning the role of advertising in the 21st century Web. He asks, "Why do we continue to take advertising for granted as the primary source of the the Bux DeLuxe required to fund technical, social and personal progress?"
Advertising has been around since humans could first make gestures. Our ancestors advertised their DNA superiority over others with their movements or vocalizations. Prehistoric cave paintings may have advertised the best places to hunt mastodons. And in the age of the Internet, we are inundated by ads, often resembling the Las Vegas strip at night, in pursuit of revenue.
Looming on the horizon is a more refined from of advertising, linking consumers more intimately with products, services and brands. As you walk down the street, your phone will alert you to specials at stores located nearby with which you might have an affinity, which was derived from deep mining of the your click trails by Google or some other powerful entity. In a BusinessWeek story Doc cites, Yankee Group analyst Linda Barrabee talks about “nirvana scenarios," with mobile ads tied to your individual behavior.
Here's how Doc thinks about nirvana scenarios:
1. No damn advertising at all. I don’t care how warm and fuzzy Google is, I don’t want to be tracked like an animal and “targeted” with anything, least of all guesswork about what I want, no matter how educated that guesswork is. 2. Tools on my phone that let me tell sellers what I want, and on my terms – and not just on theirs. Whether that’s a latte two exits up the highway, next restaurant that serves seared ahi, or where I can buy an original metal slinky. 3. I want to be able to notify the market of my shopping or buying intentions without revealing who I am, unless it’s on mutually agreed-upon terms.
Doc goes on to say that there is no “Chinese wall” between advertising and editorial. I'll agree with him not wanting to be ceaselessly tracked and targeted like a fugitive from the consumerism, and that users should be in control of how their data is used. On the subject of no Chinese Wall, Doc is too cynical. The journalists I know aren't writing to please advertisers who grace the pages of their publications and contribute to their salaries.
The issue is how to shift the tide, from a marketing culture dominated by the sell side and steeped in command and control to the buy side, the consumer, Doc said. The nirvana scenario isn't a more targeted advertising pitch churned out by the machine to increase conversions, but targeted messaging that is more of a conversation among willing participants.
The solution, according to Doc, is building tools for the buy side. Figuring out what the tools should do and building them isn't going to be the problem. Changing behavior, turning the buy side into proactive and engaged stewards of their agents and feeds roaming the Internet on their behalf will be the more difficult barrier to overcome.