White Noise on Future of Advertising

White Noise Magazine runs a feature on the future of advertising with plenty of references to my favorite Minority Report and with different experts chiming in on their technologies of choice. The article's conclusion? "What is certain is ads will not disappearing anytime soon. That, and it'll be awhile before eyeball transplants become the only way to avoid them." Don't think eyeball transplants will help, though.

I wrote a somewhat wordy reply back when Janna Zittrer, the author, kindly asked me for an opinion about what advertising might look like 25 years from now. Understandably, some things didn't survive the editor's scissors, but luckily I have my own medium now so here's the full version:

"Fifty or even 25 years is a very long time when it comes to media and advertising innovation. Anyone attempting to look that far ahead is bound to make statements that our children will find amuzingly rediculous, like the famous quote by an IBM chairman about there being a market for only five computers. Consider this:

Fifty years ago, we were only beginning to have color television, The Wizard of Oz had just premiered on TV, a remote control had just been invented, and VCRs were still a long way ahead. Twenty-five years ago, Pac-Man was a popular novelty, CNN was one year old, and cell phones were yet to be introduced. Ten years ago, watching a movie online was still a dream. Five years ago, the world didn't know anything about iPods and podcasts, Google had just begun to sell its ads, and blogging was still a fringe nerdy thing to do.

It is impossible to outline the future of advertising without attempting to imagine the society in which it will be operating. This is both an exciting and a terribly daunting task, a subject so complex that it inspires entire books and university departments, but neccessary if we are to understand what patterns, trends, practices, and laws are likely to emerge in the future.

Advertising practices at any given moment are also inextricably connected with the existing state of the media. On the one hand, advertisers create some of the market forces that influence media development. On the other hand, the prevailing media formats define what and how is advertised. So, if we blatantly overlook the complexities of predicting the path of social progress and pretend that the society of 2030 is the same as the society of 2006, we will still need to focus on developments in media technology to imagine what advertising might look like 25 years from now.

I hesitate to make "predictions" in part to avoid responsibility for the ones that don't come out, so consider what follows a wishlist, like that of a kid writing a letter to Santa after visiting a toy factory.

A lot of the advertising things that you see in Minority Report are likely to happen. People have advanced pretty far in their work on gesture-based interfaces, for example, but even the pieces necessary for the highly personalized advertising are already here. Will you be greeted by name by a Gap billboard when you come into their store in 2030? Yes, only it probably won't be a billboard.
  • The basic forms of the "holographic" displays featured in the movie are already on the market today. Are twenty-five years enough for the technology to catch on? Definitely.

  • Electronic paper will give birth to a new kind of medium that will combine the interconnected portability of a cell phone with the richness of web.

  • More advertising messages will be embedded directly into the content people consume.

  • Consumers will be advertisers' most important medium.

  • More and more ads will be finding their way into consumers' homes through routes other than mass media.

  • Some advertising will be targeted not at humans but at their robotic assistants powered by artificial intelligence to make the most optimal purchase decisions.

  • On the same note, many advertising-related tasks will be done by robots; telemarketers and flyer-givers are most likely to be replaced first.

  • Online shopping will change dramatically. People will be able not only to order things online, but also to have them manufactured right in their homes on the machines that are now known as rapid prototyping printers.

  • Someone will brand the sky."
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