Thursday, January 17, 2008

Accountable advertising

Technology solves existing problems, changes the situation, resulting in new problems.

Wonder how advertising began. Actually no need to wonder, just wiki it and you can read more about it here, where one-way communication of commercial messages and political campaign displays are found in ancient Arabia.

Since it is still being described as a one-way communication, advertisers throughout history have no way to find what happen when their advertisements appear before the recipients. Did they notice it? Did they read it? Did they believe it? May be all these don't matter as it seems that businesses just have to keep advertising regardless of what happen at the recipient end.

I wonder if advertising channels are some kind black hole that sucks money from businesses. Singapore was quite clean in the sense that our streets don't have messy neon lights. However, in the recent decade or so, advertisements are invading virtually every area, underground pass, buses, on top of buses and taxis, bus stops, and etc. I must mention the one that I personally dislike because I ride bicycle: installing a display panel on the pavement that take up 80% of its width, thus blocking my way!

The similar is happening in the cyberworld. Very few businesses, if any at all, can choose not to have a web presence, which I think is quite useless for majority of the businesses. However, something is different here. In the cyberworld, virtually everything can be recorded. Thus, advertisement firms innovate way to give indicators of what happen at the recipient end. So, you may not need to pay for advertisements to just appear somewhere but nobody notices. Cost is incurred only when there is some indication that your advertisement has been noticed. For example, pay per click system such as Google Adsense requires a click on the link, or paid for viewing system such as EmailCashPro requires a minimum period of time that the page is shown on somebody's screen, or looking for blogs and sites with huge or related readership to put up advertisements.

The last one is similar to putting advertisement on magazines, but different in the sense that not all of them need or want advertising revenue. Also, even some welcome such revenue; it is too much a hassle for a business to communicate with many individual publishers, or for an individual publisher to invite many businesses. Thus, as usual, when this situation arises, someone starts to play the agent role. The first one I joined is PayPerPost, which I think is probably the first one in the industry and the best of the few I have come across.

Getting back to the problem of knowing what happen at the recipient end, the first two solutions are obvious, but the last one doesn't seem to address the issue. Indeed it didn't, but the issue is addressed from another angle, by considering the bloggers the recipients, it is very likely that they need to visit the advertiser site, read it, learn more about the company/product/service, then blog about it.

Thus, advertising in the cyberworld is moving away from a one-way communication, where advertising agents are expected to produce some kind of accountable indication of the advertisements. Currently, the soon to be launch PayPerPlay is under fire regarding how would they know if the 5 seconds audio advertisements are being heard. I think they can know if the audio is completely played. May be they can negotiate for the rights and trusts to determine if volume is not muted. May be they can even find out if the speaker is making sound by getting ways to receive a feedback from the viewers/listeners' microphone, provided there is one. Yet, they will never know if somebody's ears are attentively listening.

Have anyone question the TV station how would they know if anyone was watching the screen when their advertisements were broadcast? Of course yes, but TV commercial is still here.

Just as Internet became more secured, when there are demands for it. I speculate that there will be better techniques to find out more about what's happening at the recipient end of an advertisement.

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