Future of the ad industry? My Golden Age argument.

Another Monday, another grim news day for the advertising industry. The media is bent on ensuring it's not a happy day for 'mad men.' One article talked about spending on social networking being impacted by the recession far worse than projected - growth figures cut by at least half. And last week, in an anticipated move, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer closed its print edition due to shrinking ad sales.

From my dealings with Xtract I've become more equipped to vocalise, in a more eloquent fashion, some things I'd already started noticing about what's wrong with ads, from a consumer viewpoint. Funnily enough, the act of getting married last year taught me a LOT about the advertising industry. Everyone wants to target someone with a budget of £20k-odd to slosh around.

Here are some lessons that the ad industry appears to still be learning:

1. No one will ever click on a sidebar ad unless it's totally relevant to them. If I'm planning my wedding in Rome and Facebook delivers up an ad for a great DJ in Rome, I'll definitely click on it. If it's about a dress shop in my town, I'll probably click on it. If it's about boxing, a sport I'm not into, I definitely won't.

2. Online ads have their place, and in some cases online ads can kill print ads. (E.g. ads on Gumtree and Craig's List crippled the classified ads market). But there are good reasons behind this evolution and it doesn't mean every digital ad has the ability to kill every print ad. A lot of people make this false assumption. Print ads absolutely have their place - when you are trying to reach a targeted, captive audience, magazine advertising is still brilliant. Newspaper advertising might be more difficult to justify and I don't think anyone has the answer to papers closing down because of this (I sure don't).

3. Mobile presents an even better platform for providing close, personal ads than the web, due to the personal nature in which we use our phones.

4. A lot of people Everyone hates spam.

5. A large proportion of people would be willing to provide small pieces of information about themselves online or via mobile to trusted providers, to ensure the ads that they're targeted with are more relevant. For those who don't want to disclose any information, opt-out clauses are critical and should be legally-enforced.

6. For any of the above themes to work, the ad industry needs to learn to cooperate with the right technologies that can make good things happen.

I could go on, but in a nutshell, if digital means via web and mobile can create personal, relevant ads, and stop the blanket advertising that results in end-scenarios such as junk mail and spam, the ad industry could face its Golden Age - a much nicer, and much different, outcome than death. Now, let's see if ad execs can wrap their heads around this concept. The new generation in advertising agencies 'gets it' - but do their bosses?

Disclaimer: Though I mentioned Xtract in this post, these views are completely my own.

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