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The Next Millennium

by Glen Emerson Morris

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When the excavations of Pompeii and Herculaneum revealed buildings hidden by lava and ash for nearly two thousand years, a number of them were found to have advertisements painted on their walls. The ads pushed familiar products, with familiar pitches, easily recognizable to anyone in the industrialized world. A lot can stay the same over two thousand years, but a lot can change.

Understanding what will change, and what won't, is particularly important to advertisers now. The advertising industry, like the rest of society, is likely to see more changes in the next decade than we've seen in the past thousand years, and the next decade will have more in common with the past than with the centuries to follow.

Even now, it is clearly evident that two fundamental elements of modern advertising are fast becoming history; the certainty that consumers can't avoid advertising, and that mass media makes access to a lot of them at one time not only possible, but very economically so.

Because of the Internet and other digital technology, mass media is being replaced by media by the masses. The mass market that almost everyone alive today grew up with is dissolving into a world of millions of channels. The same production cost revolution that fueled desktop publishing is spreading to large budget media. In the past, radio, television, and movies have always needed large-scale financing, the kind that only comes from corporations and other major sponsors. We face a future where nearly anyone will be able to afford their own radio station and quite possibly their own television channel as well. As the cost of producing quality productions drops, new low-budget consumers supported media will gain a significant market share.

The cost for consumers to enjoy digital media is falling as well. A multimedia center will be as common for consumers to have in their homes in the next millennium as a chimney was in the previous millennium. The media center will initially consist of high-definition video screen, five or more channels of surround sound, and integrated personal computers to manage it. Input for the multimedia center will come from a combination of fiber-optic based Internet links, satellite dishes, and storage media well beyond the capacity of DVD technology. Day or night, consumers will have literally thousands of noncommercial channels available to them, and the additional distraction of interactive motion picture quality video games. (At some point in the near future, more people will be playing computer video games than watching any one broadcast or cable channel.)

This array of new digital media is making it possible for consumers to live in an advertising free environment; where the material they read contains no advertising, the movies, music, and television they enjoy have no commercials. They may see an occasional billboard driving in town, but since they telecommute to work, they're not out of the house that much.

Unfortunately for advertisers the more affluent consumers are, the more they are able to avoid advertising. Furthermore, the price point of an advertising free life will continue to drop as the cost of the computer technology needed to produce it continues to decline.

Advertisers will increasingly find that access to consumers is at the consumer's invitation only. When consumers do initiate contact they're going to want information; lots of it, and delivered immediately. Consumers will be able to print out high quality catalogs and other sales materials in their media centers, a trend which will allow advertisers to spend more money on content, and less on distribution.

In the new business model advertisers will be reaching far fewer consumers, but the consumers they do manage to reach will be far more likely to buy their products and services. Advertisers will find these consumers willing to study any material they provide very closely, giving it their undivided attention. Today most advertising dollars are spent on ads that play while the consumer is doing something else. In the future, this wonât be the case.

These are not superficial changes. Advertising agencies will have to significantly redefine themselves to survive in the coming years. Clients will use their own Web pages to collect information about consumers, replacing much of the research work formally reserved for ad agencies. Media buying on the Internet is likely to be largely automated, replacing the role of the media buyer. There was still be a need for creative talent, but much of the creative elite will be self employed, telecommuting from home, making their services available to advertising agencies and directly to clients.

Traditional broadcast media face an even more problematic future. Fortunes have been spent buying local radio and TV monopolies just as the Internet is making local markets obsolete. And if you think broadcasters are going to have a rough time, just consider how telecommuting is going to affect the billboard industry, or for that matter any business that depends on signs on its building to pull people into its parking lot.

It will be a different world for advertisers in the next millennium, but properly managed, one that can still be profitable. The key to success will be understanding how advertisers can use the Internet, and how consumers can use it. In the next millennium the Internet will become the primary media advertisers use to reach consumers, or more correctly, the primary media consumers use to reach advertisers

Copyright © 1994 - 2010 by Glen Emerson Morris All Rights Reserved

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