I sound like a broken record at this point, what with my proclamations of advertising clinging to the life-preserver that is the mobile market. But I’ll say it again: Advertising, as it currently stands, is not going to continue to work. It’s not only inefficient and annoying for the viewers but also for the companies purchasing and selling ad space, as one group wastes time and the other wastes money.
It’s time to say goodbye to advertisers, and hello to sponsors.
If I were to flash an image for Gillette, or Pepsi, or Pizza Hut in this space you would do one of two things:
- Ignore the ad and get through to the rest of the article
- Get disgusted and point your browser at a different website that wouldn’t assault your retinas.
Looking at the state of the Web today, is it any wonder that apps like Instapaper and Readability are so popular? The published word went from black text on white paper to a narrow column surrounded by brightly lit, loud, moving images. Hell, in the case of car or truck advertisements there’s a chance that an image will actually roll across the thing that the reader actually cares about: the words.
Advertising dollars aren’t going to make it. Eventually, someone is going to look up from their whiskey, glance around their boardroom, light a cigarette, and say “Fuck it.” Or someone will stare wistfully through their smoke-free, top-floor boardroom, I’m not sure. (“Mad Men” is back, in case you hadn’t heard.) Why should they pay for space that the intended audience has built entire product categories to avoid?
They shouldn’t, and soon they won’t. The solution is simple, though: Make a great product and show it to someone you trust, so they’ll share it with the people that trust them in turn. This is how sponsorships work across the Web, with some of the best indie sites — think The Great Discontent, Daring Fireball, and others – offering RSS sponsorships to products or services that they themselves are excited about.
That’s the difference between a man standing with a megaphone on the corner telling everyone about how excellent the new Jason Statham movie is, in the hope that someone will listen and tell that one friend everyone trusts to show them awesome stuff. Because if you want to get people to buy your product, or at least hear your pitch, that person is the one that you need to market to.
Media has flourished around a seemingly insane business model: Give something away for free, or even at a cost that’s unsustainable, and then hope that advertising dollars make up the difference. There’s a reason why The New York Times was in such a bad spot a few years back, and continues to feel the squeeze of declining advertising revenues in Old Media. This reason is that the business model doesn’t work.
Put down the megaphone. Stop ruining content so you can make a few pennies off of wasting my time, and look into the other option: sponsorships. A few, non-intrusive words from a person that I trust is more effective than the most brilliantly designed banner ad. If we, as an industry, are going to survive, we need to get sponsors.