Where This Meets That
Lately, I’ve been re-thinking this paradox in the context of the ubiquitous advertising apparatus that we in the U.S. are subjected to everyday.
I don’t think the average consumer really consciously understands the extent to which we are subjected to advertising in our daily life. Pay close attention, and you’ll be astounded.
Virtually all media is advertising. Consumer products are packaged advertising, of course, but they frequently market other consumer products on their own packaging. Some frugal and enterprising drivers today save gas money by using their own cars for advertising. Heck, many brand loyalists will even pay producers to allow them to advertise their product; in fact, you’ve probably done it. Ever purchased a Disney shirt or hat? Or how about a sports team jersey or souvenir cup? Ever gotten a “free” water bottle with purchase of something else?
Think again: you’ve become a de facto advertiser for a given brand. Unless we try very hard not to be, we are all – to some degree – walking, flesh and blood commercials.
Even brands we take for granted as end products in their own right are merely bait for advertisers. Consider television programming, like the NFL or American Idol. Is the Super Bowl really the big event or is it simply the hook to take you to the next commercial break? Are the commercials the real show?
People frequently knock the idea of a free or reduced cost vacation where the travelers must spend a half day subjected to a sales pitch for an ocean-front timeshare. And yet, how often do we give a comparatively greater proportion of our “escape” time during an hour-long episode of Dancing with the Stars to advertisements? There’s really no difference, in principle.
But with the advance of digital technologies, the trend seems toward more content paid for through advertising dollars instead of direct from consumers’ wallets. Just peruse the vast amount of free content and services that are available on the internet today. The old adage that “there’s no such thing as a free lunch,” holds true for the internet, as well. Most legally “free” content (this blog, for instance) is funded by advertising. Even “for-pay” content is supplemented by advertisers, which usually helps distributors to keep their pricing competitive.
All this has inspired me to wonder lately, what is the “end” of modern advertising, or more directly, could advertising itself become a currency and not simply a tool?
Say Coca-Cola wants market share not for profit from consumers but for increased revenues from third party advertisers, such as fast food chains. Fast food chains, already supremely adept at partnering with third party advertisers, in turn, divert their primary focus from wooing consumers for profit to wooing customers for advertising draw from, say, movie studios. The movie studios, in turn, divert their primary revenue source to advertisers through product placement of car makers, computer and appliance brands, and on. Ultimately, while the goal of growing consumer market share remains the same, the strategic paradigm is turned on its head: instead of using advertising to maximize consumer revenues, producers would be using consumers to maximize advertising revenues.
Would you wear clothes, drive a car, live in a home, or even live your life for a sponsor? The logic plays out that eventually there must be consumer cash flow somewhere along the way; there is “no such thing as a free lunch,” after all, but perhaps goods would be lower cost to consumers than they are today.
Or perhaps this is how it already works.