23 October 2012

Advertising Jumps the Shark, Gets Back on Track

Does content deliver advertising or does advertising deliver content?

Joe Mandese at MediaPost has the answer for you, in a piece headlined “Advertising Jumps The Shark: Becomes Conduit For Content”.  

But first let’s get through that headline.

Jumping the Shark

Numerous readers pointed out in the comments section that the headline misused the term “jump the shark”.  Any student of pop culture knows the story:  On the 1970s sitcom Happy Days, Fonzie water skis over a shark, a moment now seen as the point where the show lost its original purpose – a fond look back at the 1950s – and got just plain silly.

Let’s first admit that the advertising industry has jumped the shark many more times than Fonzie, before or since.  We’ve jumped the shark via pointless line extensions, bad strategies, failed campaigns and poor planning.  Mea culpa.

Conduit for Content

In this case, the alleged shark jump is the launch of a new digital advertising platform that pulls existing Internet content into online ads.  It seems like a simple concept – link ads and content – but there’s a bit more involved.

The platform’s purveyor, Kontera, claims to be able to identify the most relevant content and serve it in web display, social and mobile ads.  That’s a bit more complicated than a shark jump – and more revolutionary.

3 Reasons Why it Matters

Mandese’s right, this is an important development the entire advertising industry should watch.

1.  It makes advertising useful, informative and/or entertaining.  These are the three things audiences seek in any medium.  For some reason we’ve been relearning that lesson the hard way in the digital advertising world.  In this case, Kontera claims to be supplying content that’s already popular, and hence should make ads more relevant.
2.     It adds sanity to online advertising.  Most web display advertising is the opposite of shooting fish in a barrel – more a minnow in the ocean.  You run ads that get clicked at infinitesimally low rates, paying only for those very small results.  Matching truly relevant content to truly relevant ads could significantly shift the equation of supply and demand.
3.     It challenges the distribution model.  Whether on TV, online or in-store, content normally is a means of distributing advertising.  That is, a :30-spot interrupts the program you were watching.  Kontera allows advertisers to buy ad space and use it to distribute all kinds of content.  Extrapolating that beyond web display ads, you can see how it would change journalism, entertainment and information in general.

Fond Look Back at the 1950s

If you read further down in the comments section of Mandese’s article, you’ll see an arcane conversation between him and me about whether it was also true in the 1950s that “advertising (was) a means for distributing content,” much like Kontera.  My point is that Radio and TV shows of the period, like soap operas and Texaco Star Theater, were also examples of brands delivering content.  (Mandese disagreed.)

It doesn’t really matter.  The only thing it proves is that for the past fifty years we’ve been force-feeding audiences our advertising when they wanted to see their content.  Up to now web display ads have followed that same model.

If, as an industry, we succeed in reversing that, and make advertising a means for distributing content, we won’t be jumping the shark.  We’ll be back on track.

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