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  • Robert Farago

Advertising is dead

Now what?

I’m the guy who started the GM Death Watch, two years before they went belly-up. I’m not a perfect prognosticator (Tesla Death Watch), but I’m the guy in the movies who peers into the distance, turns to the hero and says “there’s a storm coming.” So, advertising….

Eyeballs. Ever since ever, advertising’s been based on eyeballs. The more peepers see a product or service, the better the chance of making a sale. Newspapers, magazines, radio or TV networks banked billions by creating content that delivered eyeballs.

For their part, advertisers found clever ways to turn attention into sales. Mad Men much? Loads!

When Google launched in 1998, the online advertising marketplace was set to explode. In the early 00’s, broadband replaced dial-up and BOOM! Advertising found a new home.

The box fresh worldwide web tracked exactly how many people saw a pitch and delivered an insane amount of demographic data. Ladies and gentlemen, choose your eyeballs!

The ad-supported legacy media kept chugging away, reaping rewards with unavoidable ads on live sports and news. But there was a dark cloud on the horizon.

Netflix. The streaming service hit the small screen in 2007. If you don’t think commercial-free movies and series whacked the ad biz, you weren’t one of the millions who recorded Magnum P.I. and forwarded through the commercials. Or signed-up for multiple streaming services.

In the intervening years, we hit peak online advertising. Pop-ups and a plague of electronic ads cluttering web pages did nothing to increase online advertising’s effectiveness, and much to diminish it.

Social media - cheap advertising with 100 times the impact of a display or filmic ad – changed the game again. Products went viral out of nowhere for not much (money or content). And now? tells the tale.

The reality is this: business ideas from the least expected players and angles will disrupt your brand faster than advertising can save it. A couple of years after the world’s biggest advertising award show ditched the word advertising , we reached an inflection point: advertising as we know it has come to an end.

Author Rei Inamoto is calling advertising’s Time of Death based on new products and services exploiting reduced start-up costs and lightning fast AI-powered social media.

She cites the supremacy of the Red Bull “campaign” based on a stunt (the world’s highest parachute jump) as the new template.

Red Bull demonstrated what the brand stands for, reached the world over, and gained awareness more brilliantly than any other integrated campaigns as of late. It did so by masterfully leveraging connections it had made with the audience. And of course, it had the most audacious idea to go with it: Having balls of steel is a real edge.

Sure but – AI über alles.

As I pointed out in Google is Dead! Long Live Google!, AI is torpedoing online advertising’s main engine. To the point where Google is committing suicide with their AI-based Search Generative Experience. A service that renders moot the millions of search results past page one. Or any search at all.

We can already see the damage. Websites that depend on advertising to pay the bills are turning to AI to generate cheaper content. It’s the law of diminishing returns combined with the sunk cost fallacy.

So now what? Jumping out of spacecraft isn’t reproducible or scaleable. Even so, Fast Company correctly identified the future: leveraging connections with the audience.

Problem: products and services don’t have connections with their audience.

I consume hundreds of products and dozens of services, from my GLOCK pistol to Cascade dishwasher pods to to Coke Zero to Kindle downloads to gas for my car. I don’t have a “relationship” with any of them.

Despite carrying the world’s most interactive device on my person, despite already having my custom, not one product or service treats me like they know me.

Our relationship is strictly one way. The few interactions I have with a product or service take the form of impersonal emails, which, like everyone else, I instantly delete.

Another prime example: Triumph motorcycles.They advertise their machines. They support influencers. Blogs. Forums. I haven’t heard word one from them since I bought my Speedmaster.

No interaction re: accessories, clothing, maintenance, driving routes, rider training, meet-ups or storage. When I had a question about an idiot light, I had to go to the dealer (a brick and mortar exemplar of bad service).

There’s a simple reason for this: privacy. We don’t want to monitor you or intrude! Three words: privacy is dead.

Does the fact that TikTok knows everything you do on your phone stop anyone from using it? By the same token, would consumers reject the idea of a company becoming their friend?

To quote Will Smith, oh Hell no.

Given America’s loneliness epidemic, I reckon consumers would love to share their life with a company that honestly cares about them. That wants to make their life better. That’s the point, isn’t it?

To connect with consumers, advertisers – make that companies – need to provide value to customers before, during and after a sale.

Congratulations for buying a Yeti cooler. Here’s how to store, transport and use it. You use it in your RV? How long are your journeys? How long will your Yeti keep your lasagna fresh?

Bard knows.

The exact length of time that a Yeti cooler can keep food cool depends on several factors, such as the size of the cooler, the amount of ice used, and the outside temperature. However, in general, a Yeti cooler can keep food and drinks cool for several days, even up to a week or more in some cases.

Yeti is missing a trick. They should be the expert talking to their customers about coolers.

They should contact this imaginary owner after their theoretical trip to find out how their non-existent lasagne fared, maybe suggesting a better cooler for their make believe RV or a tasty recipe for their next fantastic sojourn.

Yes, good companies have product experts available by phone. AI chatbots now answer simple customer questions (and sound human). But they’re reactive technologies, not proactive.

Think of it this way: what if your friend never called you? How caring, how valuable would that relationship be?

My pal Ryan is launching an app called Sage Advice combining YouTube and social media. Experts (professional or not) offer advice on any topic via video, live classes or live one-to-one. They can charge whatever the market will bear or nothing at all.

That’s the future of advertising: products and services cutting out the middleman and talking to customers in a direct and personal way. Again, helping their customers live their best life.

Sage Advice will attract a huge audience but it doesn’t solve the problem of customer acquisition. That’s still down to finding eyeballs and convincing them to buy. Interact? That too.

Standard media advertising – billboards, TV, social media, search engines, email, etc. – will remain the first port of call. But AI means the days of inexpensive targeted online advertising are done.

In our Brave New World, the battle is not so much getting customers. It’s keeping them. One way or the other, the best way to do that is old school. Talk to them.

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