Advertising is on Life Support: Content is About to Be King

A recent article in Fortune Magazine says, more or less, that “advertising isn’t the solution to media’s troubles – it’s the problem.

It might seem silly to ask whether you care if anything can “save” advertising because very few people seek it out. But the larger and more important question is that if publishers cannot sell ad-space, and they cannot charge you for reviewing their content, then what? Are we all just going to blog our way toward Babylon?

The Drop

Let’s take a quick look at where publishing stands today.

First, there was no publishing. We met in the town square and traded stories (wait – there’s a reason I am saying this). Then for decades, if not a century or more, newspaper and magazine publishers monopolized content. Around the year 2000, their dominance took a dive. It has not hit bottom.

According to the Newspaper Association of America, advertising revenue for American publishers, including both print and digital, peaked at about $66 billion in 2000. Today, it is less than $24 billion and dropping at a breathtaking speed. That is a drop of almost two-thirds in a decade and a half. Worse, it’s not as if anything suggests this is cyclical. Some have predicted a steady-state of perhaps $5 to $10 billion before the decade is out. Some say that’s wildly optimistic.

Today, advertising seems most desperate where it’s least relevant, which is where the whole “town square” equation gains clarity. We may have enough technology as a society today that we no longer need anyone squiring what we see, hear and publish. We may be back to a situation much as we had since the Romans ruled Alexandria: we just talk about stuff where other people can hear it, and after a while everybody pretty much knows about it. This model has its benefits, but it also can lead to cacophony and chaos where rumor parades as fact and nobody is to be trusted.

For lack of a better way to describe it, we have come to call this “social media,” a name that suggests it’s somehow related to traditional media because of a categorical similarity. In fact, nothing about social media suggests it can be controlled or managed in anything like the way traditional media could be. But that is where “advertising” is headed.

Desperation vs. Relevance

I mentioned how display advertising seems increasingly desperate; and the abysmal click-through rates (that drive the abysmal payment rates for publishers) are a testament to that fact. A million very uninteresting ads are pushed at us by algorithms that purport to “target” us. Good one! Sometimes an “interstitial” appears on top of what you wanted to look at. Such fun! Search advertising works better, as at least this is rooted in things we took the time to look for. Email works far better as well. But neither search nor email does much for publishers.

Content is about to be king, but not because publishers have content anyone really wants to pay for (now that they don’t have to). No, content is about to be king because everyone else has content that they can market directly to one another -without the increasingly irrelevant contribution of a publisher!

This is where marketers can steal a march on the competition. Couple a good search and email strategy with relevant content on your own digital properties and you’ve constructed a selling tool that doesn’t annoy, but instead drives engagement and eventually a relationship with your company.

Working on earned media can also be a great boon to the marketer. If someone links to your story, or uses an article or a blog or a report; or tweets it, favorites it or forwards it, you can be pretty certain it will throw much more weight per ounce of effort than a spinning monkey in a banner ad ever could.

Advertising is never going to disappear altogether; contrarily, it may find itself back to its old basics in signage, broadcast branding exercises and event sponsorship. But the notion it will continue to support an “online magazine” seems increasingly quixotic. Taking its place will be us. Talking in the marketplace. Meeting up with people who want what we’re selling.

Not sure if there will be a newsstand nearby.

Homepage image via Shutterstock.

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