Is Advertising Dying? Age of Irrelevance And White Noise

Monday, April 08, 2024
The author urges advertisers to go back to the drawing board and look at advertising as a tool that strategically makes the business timeless.

There is a long-standing argument that advertising is dying and that digital data and content will take over advertising in the immediate future. There are camps that have fought this battle, it does seem that the reach-frequency driven model is under challenge from the click-transaction driven model. At least the media outlay on the click-transaction model is substantial.

I am not about to argue for or against. This battle will continue for a long time and there is no way of knowing who will win.

I am raising a new emerging threat to both models. We must remember that advertising is all about being intrusive. Brands have to stand out, be noticed and trigger an irrational desire to buy the brand.

When brands test for advertising effectiveness, one of the metrics measured is likeability. How many people liked the ad is a key measure of success of advertising. If the number of people who liked the advertising was multiple times greater than those who disliked it, advertising was likely to be successful.

But this has changed, and we have not geared ourselves to this new reality.

We live in times of message overload. There are commercial messages screaming for attention all around us. Earlier the messages that were beamed to us came in controlled bursts, when we read a newspaper, heard radio, passed a billboard or watched television. Mentally we were tuned that there will be brand messages that we will consume. The messages were not all pervasive.

Today, we consume commercial messages from the time we wake up till the time we go to sleep. These messages come in form of chats and videos on messenger apps, as posts and tweets on social media, as status updates and comments on a variety of platforms, as ads on the browser when we watch or read, in our cars, bikes, cabs and metros, in lift lobbies and shop menu boards, in malls and even sidewalks, there is no escaping advertising.

There is no way a human brain can focus or even try and recall thousands of messages that are beamed to them. We argue that the attention span of humans has declined to match those of goldfish, but in reality, this isn’t true. What really is happening is that we have developed a new mechanism to overcome this cacophony.

It’s called irrelevance. We are now actively blocking messages that make no sense to us. We have trained ourselves to ignore, look through, close eyes while watching and not register things that do not matter to us. This mechanism is not fool proof and is also impacting receiving and engaging with messages that matter to us, that may interest us or we may even want to know about them.

Irrelevance stems from white noise. White noise is a noise that contains all frequencies across the spectrum of audible sound in equal measure. This like the big microphone feedback that drowns everything leaving you with a feeling of void.

We have reduced advertising to white noise, all dull, all identical, all static.

While we are learning the art of blocking, there are brands to be built, business to be done, new categories to seed, new ideas to propagate. This is more than the battle of reach, frequency, click transaction.

It’s time the brands went back to the drawing board and looked at advertising as a tool that strategically makes the business timeless. Spend thought, spend time and apply intelligence.

There is a lot that should be done, maybe that needs a sequel to this column.

(The author is Co-founder and CSO of Bang in the Middle. He tweets @googlegupta)