The criticism began no sooner than the announcement made that Adobe would test enabling advertising in the spaces surrounding its popular PDF software. The general refrain: is everything going to contain advertising?
The race to capture eyeballs
As the ways we access content have fractured, advertisers and marketers have been struggling to determine how to remain in front of the buying public. First, there was the migration from the big three major television networks to the many channels of cable. Since that time, we’ve seen hundreds more channels added to cable, the advent of TiVo and digital video recorders (DVRs), and as high speed broadband Internet has become more commonplace, there has been a subsequent movement of news consumption to that space.
Advertisers have been reasonably quick to innovate to maintain their audiences, but some ideas have met with less than favorable responses. While early adopters of DVRs embraced the ability to either skip or forward through advertising, advertisers and content producers fought back, challenging the technology in court. One DVR manufacturer–SonicBlue–had the ability to completely skip even recording advertisements. This feature was challenged in court, and subsequent generation recorders have recorded advertisements.
As more people adopt DVRs, and the phenomenon of time-shifting television viewing, advertisers have moved to a type of banner advertising during shows, typically in the form of some character or object moving across the bottom of the screen while the show is in progress. Advertising while the show is running ensures that the message is seen, even if the viewer fast-forwards through the recorded ads. So far, such advertising has typically been confined to a brief occurrence after a program returns from a commercial break, if effective is the next step a constant “ticker” of advertising while the show is running, similar to the news ticker seen on 24-hour news channels?
In the online space, the first salvo in advertising was sent via email. Reputable advertisers and marketers abide by laws requiring opt-out provisions, but unsolicited email–spam–remains a problem. Interestingly, a May 2007 study from the Pew Internet research group (PDF) shows that while spam is still a problem, it appears to bother consumers less. This is most likely due to the improved effectiveness of email filtering programs. The next innovation in online advertising, pop-up ads, became so annoying that most anti-virus programs now proactively block. We now see banner ads, Blog Ads, dancing aliens, and contextual advertising in our Gmail, and advertising sent to our cell phones and mobile devices. The march towards advertising being everywhere is well underway, and is even leading to some creative thinking, such as the future envisioned in this amusing post from Kevin Dugan at Strategic Public Relations.
Measuring effectiveness–and ethics
Adobe’s announcement begs the question: Are these forms of advertising effective? While the public might assume that anything that annoys a potential buyer would be ineffective, studies do not back up that assumption. It is the repetition that embeds itself in the conscience of a consumer, not the consumer’s willingness to accept the advertising.
In addition to determining whether this type of advertising is effective, some raise questions about the ethics of certain practices, such as product placement on television shows. Product placement is one of the possible topics the Federal Communications Commission is considering addressing at its upcoming meeting on December 18. At issue is disclosure–how product placement sponsorship should be acknowledged during programming.
Advertising pays for programming, so as consumers shift their attention elsewhere content producers and advertisers will look for new ways to get their messages across. This is inevitable, for unless we are looking to move network television to a sponsorship model–such as Public Broadcasting’s fundraising drives–advertising revenue will be paying for content creation. Where, when, and how these advertising messages are conveyed will be determined by the market and to a lesser extent by the FCC and possibly the courts.