I learned long ago not to predict the death of anything. Especially not advertising. Something like advertising will only actually die in about 10100 years with the final heat death of the universe when everything reaches a state of maximal entropy and can no longer sustain processes that consume energy, such as computation, life or differentiating parity products. That’s when it will finally die. So, good news for WPP shareholders there. Minimal impact expected on Q3 income.
It is going to change, though, and – whisper it, lest the IPA hear you – possibly diminish. The interesting bit is not to just say that but to notice some of the moments along the way – the evidence that it’s happening, the hints that maybe it’s not, the signals that explain the process. Below are a couple of moments that might end up in the Wikipedia entry on the non-death of advertising.
The first is this quote from Tina Brown, interviewed after shutting down Newsweek – one of the massive US weeklies that used to dominate the newsstands: "There’s something about the way a magazine looks and feels when it doesn’t have advertising that is unbelievably disappointing, both as an editor and as a writer. Pages are not meant to be adjacent to one another. They need the advertising to give it body and fullness. There was always that sense of Newsweek being not the full-bodied thing that it ought to be."
The second is from the US political blogger Andrew Sullivan, announcing to his readers that he’s going to launch an entirely subscription-funded blogging product: "The decision on advertising was the hardest because, obviously, it provides a vital revenue stream for almost all media products. But we know from your e-mails how distracting and intrusive it can be; and how it often slows down the page painfully. And we’re increasingly struck by how advertising is dominated online by huge entities, and how compromising and time-consuming it could be for so few of us to try and lure big corporations to support us. We’re also mindful how online ads have created incentives for page views over quality content."
Interesting, isn’t it? These are people who have spent their professional lives depending on advertising for their livelihoods. And, if we’re lucky, they’ll miss it because it really fills out the magazine with, just, well, something; they’ll miss it as a sort of conceptual packing material. But, actually, most of the time, it actively makes the product worse. Now, there has never been love between advertising and editorial, and you can’t blame them for bad-mouthing something that’s running away from their publications, but those aren’t the words of valued partners, are they? Ah well, never mind. Just remember advertising’s not dying. There are another 10100 years to go. Order another flat white.