I suppose, if you look at it from an advertiser’s point of view,
the explosion of media - probably the defining industry development of
the last decade - is a wonderful thing.
It means that there are more opportunities and places to advertise and
more opportunities to catch the consumer’s eye. I’m not just talking
about digital TV, so much as the proliferation of all media - from
takeaway lids, BT phoneboxes and internet sites to sponsored events, and
from product placement to guerrilla laser projections.
And this is a global phenomenon, according to the latest Zenith report,
which predicts global growth in advertising expenditure of around 6 per
cent a year for the next two years. Let’s be clear: 6 per cent on 1999’s
global adspend of dollars 300 billion is a hell of a lot of extra
advertising impacts. Of course, if you’re in advertising or marketing
you play with the cards you are dealt. If they fall in your favour, so
much the better.
But there are times when it’s worth taking a look at life through the
other end of the telescope. And if we do that, what do we see? Well, we
see consumers who are bombarded at every moment and in virtually every
location. Even a hermit would be hard pushed to avoid being exposed to
advertising. You can run, as the saying goes, but you can’t hide.
Up to a point, this is fine. By and large, most people like
They understand its role as a funder of media, in creating choice and
promoting competition. Some of us even believe it brings joy and
entertainment to our lives as well as some cheer to the urban
But that is not the same as accepting that there are no limits to its
intrusiveness or, increasingly, its all-pervasiveness. The trouble is
that the advertising industry has no natural self-correcting
Adam Smith’s concept of the ’invisible hand’ of market forces does not,
I think, apply to the advertising world. Individually the addition of
each new media opportunity - a hoarding here, a sponsorship there -
doesn’t amount to a hill of beans. Cumulatively, however - which is how
the poor consumer tends to see the process - it’s another damned
This profusion of advertising brings another problem in its wake:
As each new advertising opportunity dulls the senses of the consumer, so
the need to shout that little bit louder or stretch the truth becomes
more pressing. Again, the cumulative effect of this on the consumer is
not a pleasant one to contemplate.
So is there a point at which consumers will turn hostile to advertising
and, after that, to advertisers? Don’t bet against it. A Lowe
Howard-Spink research project has already identified the ad-avoider
phenomenon in this country, and it is but a short step from the relative
passivity of avoidance to the anti-consumerist activism we saw in
Seattle earlier this month.They are, in reality, different sides of the
So there we have the advertising industry challenge for the millennium:
don’t miss the people off.