The end of ad as spectacle

The meaning of the term 'media' has changed dramatically. Where it once meant the physical vehicle, the medium, by which information was conveyed - it now represents mediation between people and the world. How we view and understand the world is mediated by the media.

It might seem like a convoluted semantic argument but, the more I think about it, the more it makes sense to me and suggests some strategies for the future.

One of the fundamental planks of media has always been that of access. I can't know what is happening in the halls of power, because I am but a plebeian schlub. But Woodward and Bernstein do have access and they become my avatars under the great domes of democracy.

Now that media has become social and we plebs now have direct access to audiences, unmediated, disintermediated, wholus bolus and it means a tectonic shift in power has taken place. We the peeps…

Or has it?

Here's the thing. I may be a blogger…here, on Posterous, on Twitter, Idealog…but that doesn't necessarily give me access to influential people (maybe Idealog does, a little).

There has always been a grudging accord between journalists and the powerful. It goes along the lines of: 'if a tree falls in the forest…but no one is there to hear…does it make a sound?. So politicians and business people, movie stars and artists grant access in return for fame and the triumphant glory of an airbrushed spread in Hello! magazine, …vanity fare.

In an era where advertising no longer interrupts the content but is the content the currency of advertising needs to change. In the era of branded content we must offer people access to ideas and people who are relevant, interesting, sexy, fun…insert adjective…but to do that we need to have access. For our clients we have to be able to broker access to the right audiences for their messages.

It is an entirely new and different skill set from the historical approach to advertising where I 'create' and you pay attention. It is entirely more participatory and the winners will be those who understand by doing, not by theorising about a market's motivations based on vagaries and abstractions like 'household shoppers'. Forget about 'target markets' and the message. Synthesising messages down to 30 second fantasies will be as a quaint as pamphleteering seems now. Telling stories and documenting interesting lives will replace the crude spectacle that advertising became. The spectacle will become a lens. Access will be crucial. Make sure you have a back stage pass.


  1. Great post and I agree with everything you say except - and I may be misunderstanding you - I don't agree that we need access to celebrities - politicians, movie stars, artists etc. That's the old media model, and sure celebrities will always hold some sway (particularly in the US) but not like they did before-not in the advertising/endorsing sense. I love this new media era we live in because of the fact our friends/community have more media might than a celebrity. And I love that anyone can become a celebrity through new media and no advertising: enter Justin Bieber discovered on Youtube in vids his mum uploaded.

  2. Agreed. And... as well as access to interesting lives, I think usefulness has a lot to do with it. I think advertising needs to embrace the concept of "everything-as-a-service" ... so a successful ad doesn't just announce, it facilitates something. It helps me do a certain job in my life, whether that's understanding how to be healthier, or more virtuous, or more successful, or...

  3. Siobhan, I had no idea that was how Bieber was discovered, how interesting.

    Anywho, I wanted to say thanks David as I had no idea who Woodward and Bernstein were, had to google them, and wow, what a story they have eh? Wish I'd completed a history paper here and there at school.

    Anyway - My point for this comment is this... If Media Agencies need to remain relevant by continuing to provide access to relevant audiences, won't they need to start creating Social Media Databases? I assume these Social Media databases will be split in the same way as we split consumer segments today, demographics, preferences, attitudes etc.

    Okay, here's what I am thinking, stop me if this already exists, and I just don't know about it yet.....My thinking is that an Agency will develop, manage and OWN a plethora of Social Media Database's. Each database will be 'infiltrated' by the agency's own 'Social Media Database Manager'. This SMDM will be a new role that will not only create the database, and manage it (to keep it clean from bots, and updated with relevant SMer's - Social Media Users).) but will also act as the Agency's authentic connection to the database, so that SMDM (Social Media Database Manager) is part of the targeted demographic, and acts almost like a Brand Ambassador for the client. Wow...the scope of this idea is huge, if I do say so myself, hopefully my babblng actually makes sense?

    The closest idea I have read is who have this 2010 trend called PROFILE MYNING but this is more for consumers, not for businesses trying to target consumers. I know Facebook, Twitter, etc have very clever databases that allow them to place relevant online ad's, but is anyone actually strategically targeting and talking to their Social Media market yet using someone like a Social Media Database Manager role? Whatever happens, I think they need a way cooler title.


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