The Evolution of Advertisements

TL;DR Any system designed to overcome the need for advertisements must inform the maximum amount of people possible about, reinforce the customers’ loyalty to, and cultivate a positive image of the product or service. There is no concrete suggestion in this thread for a solution, only facts off which to develop such a solution.

If anyone’s been following South Park, you’ll know that they really have it out for advertisements this season. For those not following, the latest episode provided a good summation of advertisements in recent times:

For years, mankind has tried to rid the world of ads. For our ancestors, ads couldn’t be avoided, but everyone knew what was an ad and what wasn’t. After many years, mankind invented cable: a way to pay for television so there would be no ads. But somehow the ads still found a way. And so mankind invented Tivo: a way to skip past commercials. Finally, it appeared to be the end of ads, and everywhere, people rejoiced. The ads were stopped, or so it seemed.

With the rise of the internet, suddenly the ads had an entirely new way to attack us: pop-ups. The top scientific minds were brought together to find a way to stop the ads once and for all. They invented the ad blocker. Suddenly there were no ads on phones, on computers, and everywhere, people rejoiced.

But the ads adapted. They became smarter. They disguised themselves as news. All around the world, people read news stories, completely unaware they were reading ads. And now, the ads have taken the next step in their evolution. They have taken human form. Ads are among us, they could be your friend, your gardener. The ads are trying to wipe us out. The question is … how?"

South Park via (oddly enough) Adweek

Now, IMO, to effectively get rid of something, you can’t outlaw it, you can’t ban it, you have to overcome it. You have to provide a more effective, healthy solution to the underlying problem. So what’s the problem?

Most products and services aren’t known to everyone. Sure they may be known to many, but the thought is that there is always some person who is unaware of that product or service. So any solution must include a way to provide awareness of products or services to everyone. This aspect is called Advertising.

Also, there is a need for any product or service to set a brand. For example, Coca-cola may not have a large group of people who don’t know about the product, however they do have a major competitor in Pepsi. This brand awareness component then is less of an outreach mission and more of a message reinforcement. This aspect is called Branding.

Lastly, in any good campaign there is an unbreakable connection between the product or service and everything that is associated with that. A powerful form of marketing is word of mouth, which is why anyone representing the product or service must uphold certain values and ethical standards in order to encourage the spread of the recognition of the company through positive word of mouth. This aspect is called Marketing.

My conclusion then, is that in order to do away with invasive and obtrusive ads, a solution must be provided that informs the maximum amount of people possible about, reinforces the customers’ loyalty to, and cultivates a positive image of the product or service.

Now let’s look at the Network. There is nothing in the inherent design that achieves these goals. And one may rightly wonder if it’s the Network’s responsibility to do so in the first place.

The easiest aspect to tackle would be the Marketing conundrum. Yelp and other public review systems (Amazon, Silk Road, etc.) allow both the customer to view others’ thoughts on the product or service as well as (in most cases) the responses of those who represent the product or service. Thereby solidifying the image thereof.

However, this only works when the reviews are done in good faith. Any spam, fraudulent or malicious reviews can unfairly and irrevocably harm the reputation of the product or service. Most systems up to this point have relied on a moderator-type service which will mediate the review process and the display of those reviews in order to mitigate these issues. Places that do not provide this ability (forums, social media, etc.) often evolve prejudices and illusions - positive or negative - about the product or service that is outside of the control of those representing it.

A more abstract issue is Branding. The premise is simple - whenever and wherever the brand is mentioned, the brand must be reinforced. The simplest way to do this IMO is to have a way wherein any mention or reference of a product or service immediately produces the brand - whether that brand be a symbol, catchphrase, or something else.

Just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder though, brands may mean different things to different people. Who is to say what the brand is and isn’t? This is exponentially important once we consider the nature of decentralization and the environment that this Network is attempting to cultivate.

Finally we come to the crux of the matter - Ads. Alas, I do not have a positive example of successful ads in the wild, as they are universally despised by those who are meant to consume them (as described in the initial quote). However, I do have one positive note about how to spread the word about a provided product or service.

My personal experience with products or services is that if I need them, I will seek them out. I will do my own research and due diligence. This is the canonical argument against the need for ads in the first place.

The way out of obscurity for products or services then would be cooperation in the spirit of competition. While Amazon’s “People who bought this also bought…” feature may be mildly inaccurate on the best of days, it does showcase an inventive approach that current models do not. Expanding this approach has it’s benefits as well.

Companies that offer complementary products or services have the ability to support one another in order to boost their own brand. But what is more important is having opposing products or services acknowledge (but not necessarily promote nor smear) their competition.

That may be a bit vague, so let me offer a few examples:

  1. When I view content from an artist, I don’t want to see advertisements about guitars or paintbrushes, rather I would like to explore similar artists whose content I can consume as well. This works well if you think about art galleries or shows that contain multiple acts on stage.

  2. When I’m searching for insurance, I should be able to view all of the rates available to me, and choose the most suitable one for my purposes. There may end up being a trade-off between service quality, cost, and availability where one-size does not fit all.

  3. When I go to purchase my next laptop, my manufacturer may suggest peripherals that complement my choice of and use-case for my laptop.

This is not merely wishful thinking. Affiliate marketing has worked in the past along with cooperative advertising. These examples merely expand upon the options that are available today.

There are several ways that these systems could be (and have been) exploited - given the right motivation (greed, revenge, etc.). Bribery and bias are the first that come to mind. Misrepresentation (slander, libel, defamation, etc.) is another, although this would be much harder in a decentralized environment. And last but not least, exclusion. Exclusion is the death-knell in this kind of setup for any type of product or service and can even be used as a weapon against other companies.

Our challenge as consumers is to discourage the dishonest entities who use these tactics by voting with our dollars, our views, and our reviews. The challenge for the Network is to encourage this type of cooperative competition while discouraging traditional advertising models.

To conclude this increasingly lengthy post, when we throw around the word “advertisement”, there are many different factors that make up the concept. There are many different goals to achieve when providing a product or service, and ads help these goals to be met. However, this method is just a stop-gap, and the real solution to the problem is yet to come in the form of cooperative competition. To mangle a perfectly good Winston Churchill quote:

Many forms of [advertisement] have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that [the current ad-based business model] is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that [ads are] the worst form of [cultivating awareness] except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.

Adaptation from Winston Churchill’s quote on Democracy

Disclaimer: This is by no means a comprehensive analysis of advertisements, rather a high-level overview designed to highlight the underlying problems that advertisements are designed to solve.

Warren is the Number One Advertiser on this forum, by the way.
The range of products & services he’s pitched varies from cars to politicians.
At the same time, he is against advertising.

I’m not concerned so much about advertising because I block it quite well, so I don’t have much to say on the topic except that the owner of the site you’re visiting is free to syndicate his intended ad space or use it any way they see fit (maybe even fill it with content rather than advertising).
Several sites have been experimenting with no advertising at all. I think that shows another step in the evolution: I don’t want to see anything but site content.
A rational site owner will not show a 3rd party ad if he can get more money not showing it than showing it. So short of blocking those ads people need to be willing to pay more for a hassle-free browsing experience.

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Unfortunately, it seems like the payment is being taken more and more in data instead of dollars.

EDIT: Proponents of ad-free browsing usually point to the analogy of how books didn’t contain advertisements in the middle of books (between chapters, etc.). But two things about that - first off, you paid money for the book. Also, the publisher oftentimes advertised other books or editions at the end of the book (especially if it was a cheap paperback).

P.S. Thanks for reading my ramblings - hope they made some semblance of sense.

Hah, that’s a good one. But now they usually do - various “endorsements” that appear on the back cover are usually ad space for other writers who published on the same or a complementary topic (based on the “you might also like…” idea), which brings the price down although not by much.

Exactly. I think Gutenberg would have added spam content to his book(s?) if he had a good advertiser with strong regional presence in most places where the book was sold.

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