Relevancy of advertising — the next frontier
It's increasingly more important for all parties (advertiser, agency, media) to deliver ads to reader that are relevant. And, in the near future I feel relevancy will drive the industry.
Traditionally good media planners knew where to place ads to make sure readers are interested. This method is not very precise, but this is what off-line media could offer for a long time.
Few years ago Google introduced Adwords (running on AotW as well) which measures the effectiveness of certain ads on a specific website and delivers ads that are relevant to readers based on the number of clicks a certain ad receives. If certain ads are clicked they will be shown more often. Under performing ads will not be shown.
Now digg.com, a social bookmarking site is going one step further and they are planning to introduce a system where readers can directly vote ads up and down and the pricing of the ads to the advertiser will depend on how relevant readers find these ads. Much liked ads will be cheaper and the less readers like the ad the more expensive it will become. The least relevant ads eventually be so expensive they will be priced out of the system.
Facebook has a similar feature for their ads, but it's not clear what happens to ads that are voted down.
I think this is a good approach because it makes ads extremely relevant to the majority of readers. But not to every individual. It is possible the majority will like a certain ad, but you personally find it irrelevant. Perhaps 60% of the readers of a website are from US and they vote up a US based service, which you outside of the US can't use.
So, what's the next step of being even more relevant? User personalized relevancy. Adwords started experimenting with such targeting, but they only went to the extent of making ads relevant to your location. Google potentially could go become much more precise by analyzing the information in your Google account, but they are afraid to do so. It would really feel creepy to most people as if Google is spying on them.
Imagine the scenario: You're looking through Malaysian travel sites and send and receive emails about scuba diving. Suddenly every Adsense ad on any website you visit would be trying to sell you Malaysian scuba diving vacations. Now, that would be relevant, but scary at the same time.
Theoretically media companies and advertisers should only use publicly available information about people to target their ads. But this brings up an important question. For example, the time and location of public appearance is public information, since anybody can see the person on a train station or at the bank. But what if a media company were to aggregate a long time pattern of your public appearances with the help of public cameras and face recognition software. That surveillance info would suddenly feel inconvenient for most people even though the relevancy of advertising would be extremely precise.
Another example, imagine if interactive outdoor ads would check your eye movement with eye-tracking and change their content depending on the pattern of your interest. Would that be uncomfortable or highly relevant?
I think people with time will tolerate big-brother type of advertising more and more and in the future they would even demand precise relevancy from advertisers. In the event of a misdirected communication they will be offended by the lack of attention from the advertiser towards them.
The world of advertising is changing faster than ever before and in 10-20 years everything we do today will be obsolete.
But, fear not. The foundations of our profession will be unchanged. We still have to know our consumer, only much more precisely than we do today. We still have to find the right way to talk to him, but with a greater variety of messages.
And, most importantly, we will still need to come up with great ideas that break through regardless of any change in technology or regulations.