There have been gathering warnings all through the autumn. Now a realization is beginning to form, we can look back and see how it crystalized, and what it may mean. But the underlying message is clear: the power of advertising as a media business model is broken, and will never return with the same force. How do I know? Well, for a start, I heard Chuck Richards, Outsell’s B2B analyst, say that the B2B market would become overwhelmingly “pull” based: we are looking, in the view of the least alarmist commentator that I know, at a world where conventional display and banner advertising will disappear. I sat still for an hour after hearing this thinking of all the precursor events that I knew about and trying to put them in order.

For a start, digital advertising revenues, though trumpeted by anxious media owners, show no signs of returning to either pre-recession or pre-digital levels. Anywhere, not just B2B. So with print diminishing and digital ads becoming a lowly priced commodity, the influence of advertising of any sort on network-based business modes is in retreat. Indeed, the interesting marketplace in advertising suppressants tells an aligned story. Lets take AdTrap ( as a typical example. This is not even software to block advertising, but a hardware-based solution that stands between the server and the modem – and edits web pages. Notice its angle of approach: “a small price to pay to lose intrusive advertising and videos – and have web pages that load more quickly and easily” seems to paraphrase the message. Now keep looking and you will find that Yellow Page style advertising has almost gone, that print is discounting heavily to offset falling circulations. Only television seems secure…or does it? Programme making power seems to be moving from the traditional (cable) networks and franchise holders towards “made for download” TV. The new powers will soon be Netflix and its imitators, and we shall be talking about the Game of Thrones content creation model. Everything here speaks to sponsorship: nothing supports the intrusive intervention of “message breaks” filled with minutes of surplus to requirements video drizzle.

But surely the mighty advertising world will not take this sitting down? Well, I was ticked off recently for referring to WPP as an ad agency: I should have said “marketing and data analytics” company or some sort. Omnicom and Publicis are now engaged to be married: is this a merger of strengths or a way of disguising weakness? Certainly the elan of an industry which, in its 1950s manifestation was a billboard for the confidence and prosperity of a recovering post-war world, now looks fragile and faces real issues in this slow post-recession recovery. Creatives are still a high value commodity, but the world of PR and advertising built on campaign planning and tactical development and space booking can normally be performed by the workflow tools installed on the laptop of the lowliest marketing assistant working for the big brand owners And the brands are more likely to have the data required for higher level analytics – and to invest in it.

So brand management, like the rest of us, looks to lose cost and gain in productivity terms. And all the tools are there to do the job, though they do not present themselves, for obvious reasons, as ways of undermining their existing clients in advertising and PR. Companies like Gorkana and Cision have moved from their historic base in the news clipping services – a dull necessity for ad agencies who needed “voucher” as proof of ad publication and clippings as a oemonstration of launch and PR impact. These players have now become bedrock workflow tools that also enable the migration of PR and advertising back in house, with only the creative elements remaining to be subcontracted.

What then replaces push advertising? Part on the answer lies with social media, with its ability at once to allow brands to create word of mouth interest, and its hugely powerful position as the Recommendation Engine. As social networks get over “big” and return to niche, they will become much more powerful as a source of purchasing impetus. “We need to replace the fridge – who recently bought one…? Why are half of my friends on Apple and half on Samsung…?”. “Here’s a link to where we bought them…” And this works as well in B2B niche sector business and professional networks. This is where users learn to go to Capterra and other niche listing, recommendations and comparison sites. And here is where wholly new buying relationships are going to be forged.

When I began as a young publisher one of my first responsibilities was the Nelson Classics, wonderful mini-editions of classic novels in a small format that had flourished before the First World War under the editorial direction of John Buchan. Of course, by my day they had been swamped by Penguin and the age of the paperback. One thing that I noted was that while Penguins advertised other Penguins, my back pages were a messy swamp of advertisements for liver pills, Dr Collis Browne’s patented cures and other matter thought useful, no doubt, for constipated and otherwise afflicted readers. At one time, the book was thought to be a place for push advertising, and just as it has so certainly retreated from the book, e or otherwise, our children will be surprized when they reflect that it was once an expected feature of magazines, newspapers, networked media and mobile devices.


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