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The Great Honesty

  |  August 31, 2007   |  Comments

Advertising is sometimes known for being deceptive. But is the Internet's openness forcing us to a place of honesty?

Some say we live in a time in which technology has shortened the lifecycle of an idea and fragmented the way we communicate. That long, eloquent speeches are over; instead, they're commonly chopped into sound bites so we can fit them into our technology. That stories told through moving pictures are staid and formulaic and have become that way because of our global marketplace and the blazingly fast speed in which we deliver them.

We're also told advertising is the modern age's poetry, reflecting the facets of the human condition back to us in quick-moving pictures and sounds. I probably believe these things, but lately I've had some other thoughts.

Technology has changed advertising forever. Through the Internet, it's given millions of people access to more ideas and brought people closer to each other. It's brought the human experience and the multifaceted human story closer to people.

Ideas, advertising or otherwise, combined with technology are a powerful mix. But what has it done to our way of communicating? Do complex ideas have a place in our online, ad-driven world? Has this powerful mix undermined our culture's texture, or has the evolution toward a slapstick, sound-bite driven world started whether we like it or not?

Let's take a quick look back.

My grandmother was born in 1901 and lived to be 100. She went through so many technological advances, one could write about them forever. From the basics of running water, sanitation, and medicine to the more sophisticated radio, TV, space exploration, and computing. The list goes on.

She never owned an iPod, had cable TV, wrote an e-mail, or made a mobile phone call. She was happy to talk to her family once a week on the traditional landline phone. Is it because she wasn't interested, or that she couldn't absorb a new technology after having experienced so much already?

During her life, modern advertising began and meshed into the culture. At first, it was meant to remind and build recognition. Then, it began to relate and build connections and be meaningful and a service to the mass audience.

We now see advertising almost everywhere we turn. But has it changed? It fragments into smaller and smaller behavioral bits. Your Web site visit may be different from mine, ad-wise.

Is targeting making advertising more honest or more intrusive? Is the fact the high velocity of ads, ideas, and experiences happening every minute of every day changing the very nature of advertising communications?

If my grandmother is any indication, we older folks, in technological terms, may not be willing care. Or just unwilling to unlearn the format of our lives.

As we think up new ways to entertain, instruct, inform, and waylay a possible customer with an ad, video, or who knows what, we find ourselves searching for new tools to get a message across. But we may be approaching the whole online ad thing like vaudevillian actors trying to write a new bit.

The one thing the Internet has shown us is we aren't the sole owners of an idea. Once we decide to publish our own content, we leave ourselves to the cauldron of thoughts that can love, hate, anger, disgust, and ultimately shape the idea into something else. Young people, the next 66 million people coming into the young adult market over the next 10 years, may decide advertising and content are something entirely different. If they do, we marketers and advertisers have a lot of unlearning to do.

Dorian is off this week. Today's column ran earlier on ClickZ.

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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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