How has the Information Age changed advertising?
January 2, 2012 12:48 PM   Subscribe

How has the Information Age changed advertising?

I'm teaching an introductory sociology of advertising course and I'm trying to provide a brief historical overview of how it has changed. I plan on hitting the library over the next few days to do some more research, but I thought I'd see what everyone here might have to say in the meantime. I'm trying to pick out defining characteristics of each era. For instance, how town criers were a popular form of advertising during preliterate days or how the printing press brought with it the poster and newspaper.

My expertise is not historical but rather analytical studies of how advertising shapes our cultural understandings etc.
posted by DorothySmith to Education (13 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
The Cluetrain Manifesto is a good readable and accessible-by-students way of looking at early internet marketing approaches. This was sort of before social media was as big a thing but just thinking that people would have direct access to talk to each other en masse, about brands and not just get talked to BY companies. I use it sometimes explaining the "2.0" internet as more than just a printing press situation, and it really changed how companies were expected to talk to customers. Nowadays you have "savvy" marketers like Seth Godin talking about how to be engaging doing permission marketing and online advertising generally. His books are also pretty readable. Nowadays the thing that interests me personally is how in the age of social media having people managing your social media strategy is a big thing and so you have legions of young marketing-type people basically being "Facebook's voice of Ragu" or whatever the heck. And sometimes this works great and sometimes it's a crazyfail [i.e. Nestle].

It's also worth looking back to the people who originally took advantage of the economies of scale that the internet could provide, even pre-web. I think about the Green Card Spam incident [since spam is usually some sort of marketing at some level, but it's at almost no cost so the ethics aren't dictated by financial constraints like in the world of print] and how Adam Curry grabbed the domain and was using it as an unofficial gopher server before anyone really knew what the internet was.
posted by jessamyn at 1:05 PM on January 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

A big one would seem to be customized advertising. When you go to a web site the advertising is different than other visitors might see based upon IP geolocating to find out where you're from (geotargeting). You can see this if you use anonymous browsing software like Tor that makes it look like you're coming from another part of the world - you start getting advertisements in other languages.

It's often targeted in much more sophisticated ways as well; tracking software can link up a person browsing (or at least an IP address or "browser fingerprint") with information from various databases and information services that have recorded activity elsewhere online and use that to choose which ads to display. There's also software that will try to use this sort of information and details of browsing behavior to try to guess demographic categories for the person behind the web browser like their gender or age group or income level.

On a shopping site that you've got a history with like previous purchases (or just based upon the last few items you've viewed) there's recommendation engine software to present other items that you're more likely to be interested in.

There's interactive advertising too like the Youtube and other video service ads that simply ask you which advertisements you'd prefer watching.

Also, the automated nature of web software and the fact that minute details of visitor behavior are all recorded also make possible more "scientific" marketing approaches at a smaller scale because when trying out techniques like A/B testing or simply showing different prices to different groups of customers you can quickly analyze and gather data on the results; so marketers can easily run experiments to see whether or not an advertising approach they think will be superior, actually is.
posted by XMLicious at 1:27 PM on January 2, 2012

Keep in mind that the following is my own personal analysis that I came up with to stay entertained during commercial breaks, but I think it's applicable to your course.

I feel like advertising is experiencing a noticeable increase in snark & aggression, much of it influenced by internet communication.

Early TV marketing largely focused on the merits of a product (This product will make you happy!).

Over time, it became more acceptable to acknowledge include critiques of competitors in the advertising. (Their product is less good at making you happy!)

Then advertising got comfortable acknowledging and/or inventing the dark side of life. (This product will help fill an emotional void!)

In the past 10 years or so, there's a new trend of marketing the product to not just keep up with, but conquer the joneses (Our product will make people around you feel worse about themselves!) Competition has been present in advertising for a long time, but it seemed to focus on the satisfaction of succeeding, not the joy of watching someone else fail. It mirrors the social competition on facebook or huff-po comment sections.

I also notice that couples in recent commercials seem to despise each other more often than not. I'm not sure how that ties to the information age, but the tone seems to resemble internet snark as well.

It's also interesting how many couples in commercials think eachother ar
posted by yorick at 1:39 PM on January 2, 2012

Google's Remarketing page is worth a visit, and will probably be eyeopening for your students.

I've been told that Best Buy will pay $100 or more for a "remarketed" click that shows someone their Best Buy cart as an ad on someone else's site, just because that increases the odds of the consumer going back to the Best Buy website to complete their purchase.

Back to "old" media: They may not know that many media business models is to sell the audience to advertisers. That's why broadcast TV is free: they're selling consumer eyeballs to advertisers. Ditto for why magazines are so cheap, at $5/year for a subscription to Town & Country. It's not about making the money from the subscription, it's about helping the advertiser get their ads into the right demographic hands to sell stuff.
posted by wenat at 1:48 PM on January 2, 2012

The analogy I'd make would be military. In WWII, you sent hundreds of bombers to cover an area with unguided bombs and may or may not actually hit your target. In modern warfare, you send a single plane with precision munitions that can slip down a ventilation shaft or through a window. Having run campaigns, a barrage of untargeted ads will have such a low response rate that it's not worth doing unless you're burning an ad budget or supplementing a campaign.

Running an online campaign, I can get near-realtime feedback on a particular piece of creative and adjust on the fly. Sticking with the military analogy, not only can I make sure the bomb is going to the right target, as it's dropping, I can say "No no no, women 18-30 won't do at all, it turns out this is women 31-50 in major metro areas" and adjust it on the fly.

Affiliate/social/referral marketing is much bigger than it used to be when it was things like Avon.

Authenticity is both essential and meaningless. If an ad is poorly done (say I run onto Metafilter and start obviously marketing, I dunno, snow tires), then you get called out and shunned. However, if an ad is well done, people will have no qualms about sharing it among their friends (witness the near-ubiquity of the Old Spice Man or The Most Interesting Man in the World, both of whom are obvious advertisements, but who also seem to be authentic characters).
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 1:53 PM on January 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Where The Most Interesting Man in the World is interesting (sorry!) in an advertising sense is he subverts traditional ad wisdom. This is an interesting article on the campaign.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 1:58 PM on January 2, 2012

Modeling customer behavior and characteristics became possible for more than just the credit card companies. We store your transactions. We store the information you provide to us. We store the information you share with our partners. Companies make money by assigning a probability that you are in a certain age, income, and additional demographic bucket. We can execute a model across all our customers and not just a subset because we can process a hundred million records reasonably with quad core processors and operating systems that will recognize two thousand times the memory of computers sold 15 years ago. (Also, it is cheaper). We can Taylor our advertising to you. We can digitally insert advertisements into sporting events on the fly. We can calculate how much money we can expect to extract from you in a lifetime. We can figure out how to extract more (what actually entices you to buy). We can treat your purchase like chaos theory, game theory, traditional marketing, and any number ofemployees other ways. We can make a Bayesian model and let it tell us what you are already likely to buy. We can follow you across media. We can know where you live, where you shop, how far you are willing to drive...

In a sense - you are now a product we buy and sell as a company - not only a purchaser.
posted by Nanukthedog at 2:24 PM on January 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think the single biggest change is the creation of product-specific web pages. Things like web pages for TV shows, or movies, or shoes, or sports drinks. These days almost every product has its own home page.

The fundamental aspect of advertising through most of its history has been that it is trying to deliver a message which is thought of by the targets as an unwanted intrusion. With the development of product home pages, for the first time advertisers are trying to create a place where potential customers want to go and trying to deliver information that customers want to read.

Because if they don't, then no one will visit the page, and it won't do the advertiser any good.

On the other hand, if they succeed, it means they have the attention of the customer and can deliver a longer, better message.

If you consider a catalog to be a form of advertising (as I do) then that's another change. Paper catalogs are totally obsolete. Online catalogs are vastly superior for everyone involved. For customers, they can be organized better and there can be search functions. For the advertiser, they can provide more timely information -- and they can track orders in real time, and indicate to customers how much inventory of a given kind remains available.

The seller can also change the price dynamically; he isn't stuck with whatever price he put into a physical catalog.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:36 PM on January 2, 2012

I made the following comment in a previous MetaFilter thread about Facebook:

You know how the change from hunter-gather to farmer revolutionized human civilization? Advertisers now have made that change. People are crops to be cultivated and reaped. This is just adding Roundup resistance to get rid of those pesky, unprofitable weeds.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 3:59 PM on January 2, 2012

Found an interesting article through a "best of the web" list. Really good for the circularity in it (he talks about askmefi)

The Web Is a Customer Service Medium
posted by wenat at 5:57 PM on January 2, 2012

Came back to suggest you read Propaganda by Bernays. It's more about public relations than advertising, strictly speaking, but you'll be amazed how current it seems even though it was written in the 1920s.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 6:01 PM on January 2, 2012

Contrary to what XMLicious says above, marketers have taken a scientific approach to advertising for the past century. What technology enables is the ability to do it with greater precision & speed. Ever since Claude Hopkins wrote the book Scientific Advertising in 1923 the principle of A/B testing etc. have been known.

Technology allows us to target people with more specificity. Geolocation has existed as a dimension of marketing for a long time, as has targeting people based on interests. Google YAWYL for a a database of zip codes & demographic profiles that pre-dates the web.

While in the beginning of the century, that was only possible by analyzing what magazines they read (and you advertised in, or whose lists you purchased), now this is possible by tracking what people search for, what websites they visit, etc.

So the same things are happening, but with greater specificity.

Also, rather than waiting for weeks for the returns of a mailing to return, A/B testing can happen in the course of an afternoon on a website and with some google adwords.

I've blogged this in a bit more depth here (sorry for the self-link).
posted by MesoFilter at 1:16 PM on January 3, 2012

I didn't say that it was never done before, I said it's more feasible "at a smaller scale" now.
posted by XMLicious at 2:56 PM on January 3, 2012

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