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The Advertising Interocracy

  |  April 13, 2007   |  Comments

Who should run the Web?

The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance. -Aristotle

There's been a lot of complaining recently about the state the advertising industry. Yes, my voice contributed to the rancor. But through all the strife, I think, "There must be a better way to move past it."

Then I think, "No, this is a battle. A clash. It's going to get really ugly. At the same time, some stunning work will be produced between offline and online talent. A sea of great creative will appear in the shadow of validation, ego, and proclivity. Some amazing monuments to famous conquests come to mind, all borne out of similar struggles."

Regardless of what the advertising community thinks or does, we can't escape the fact how communications between commerce and consumers occur is shifting. That's pretty scary for a lot of people.

But isn't the Internet for everyone? Words like "democratization" and "user generated" are bandied about these days like glow lights at an outdoor techno concert.

Before we go there, what can history and, yes, political science tell us of our online world's future? A quick reference:

  • Autocracy. One individual holds all the power. This is the polar opposite of the Internet, but when I read or watch the news, sometimes I think were not far away from it.

  • Oligarchy. Power is held by a small group. This is becoming the reality in media. Ad networks are consolidating, and the flexibility we once enjoyed at the creative end of the spectrum could disappear.

  • Plutocracy. Power is held by the wealthiest of society. Isn't this the client? Doesn't that make advertisers a bunch of lobbyists? I don't golf!

  • Gerontocracy. Power is held by the elders of society. This probably can't happen. Wouldn't it mean online bingo would be the most popular online activity after porn?

  • Democracy. This is a government of the people. It's what eBay thinks it is. If it is, we're in trouble.

  • Anarchy. There's no centralized power. Sounds like my last vacation in Mexico during a lightning storm.

What the above is meant to illustrate is there are various ways of looking at what the Internet was, is, and should eventually become. Therein lies a fault in reasoning. Some people believe the Internet is wild and crazy and should stay that way. Let it all hang out: the good, the bad, and the spammy.

Others believe we should control the destiny of this dynamic medium and make it more practical, wholesome, and useful. That idea, combined with technological advances, is what drives the online advertising industry.

But what if we can't realize the vastness and potential power of a communications channel such as this? Could it still realize its true power?

What if the masses took the initiative in controlling how their opinions, actions, and interactions are valued? What if business were transacted as a pan-commerce bartering solution? Currencies would go away, units of merit would be standardized, and all things people did with, to, and for one other would either gain or spend a unit of merit.

Maybe I watched a little too much science fiction in my youth, but if you think about it, the Internet is the ultimate communications tool. The faster and more unwired it gets, the more likely these things could be realized.

So, an eventual Interocracy could be in our future. And somewhere in the middle, advertising will be present, creating sizzle so commerce can compete in a cauldron of ideas and user interactions.

OK, it may all seem a little fantastic. But in the end, online is a powerful medium to work with. If we look at each other to determine who's in charge of doing the advertising, we're conveniently avoiding the truth that stands behind us: users.

Sooner or later, we'll realize they're the ones pushing the buttons.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dorian Sweet

Dorian Sweet is the vice president and executive creative director of GSI Interactive who leads strategic development and innovation in online advertising, Web development, e-commerce, and customer relationship management programs. His work has brought award-winning online solutions to such clients as Clorox, Miller Brewing Company, GE, Visa, eBay, British Airways, Wells Fargo, Discovery Networks, Motorola, Kodak, Sears, 20th Century Fox, and others.

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