I haven't always agreed with John Battelle, but ever since we worked on opposite coasts for Wired Magazine in 1994 I've had no doubt that he was an ambitious and provocative thinker. "The Search" is required reading for anyone trying to understand the center of gravity in the digital age. And now, on his "searchblog," John offers a very original and refreshing take on the lasting global contribution of... the banner ad.
"Why the Banner Ad is Heroic, and Adtech is our Greatest Artifact" offers up a truly original thought: Long after actual banner ads fade from memory (much the way television cigarette ads have at this point) the infrastructure created to deliver them will endure, serving mankind in a myriad of ways. "Programmatic adtech is the heir to the database of intentions," Battelle writes. "At present, the end result of this vastly complicated "Request - Process - Response" system is, more often than not, the proffering of a banner ad. But that's just an artifact of a far more interesting future state." The man is right. Currently a click on a link, the call of a page or a bit of mobile content catalyzes billions of computing cycles to process a personalized response. The process itself is an awesome accomplishment. That we are currently using it to carpet-bomb consumers with redundant direct-response ads and follow them around the web with their abandoned shoe purchases is beside the point: those are symptoms of our lack of imagination.
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Battelle imagines a world in which the stimulus won't be a page request, but rather a decision made in a retail shop or the filing of a health claim. And the processing will yield rich troves of information, content, choice...context. "What we today call 'adtech' will tomorrow become the worldwide real-time processing layer driving much of society's transactions," he writes. It's enough to make one proud to have been part of our pedestrian beginnings!
I can't improve on John's meme, so I'll just offer a mid-range simplification. I've thought for many years that ad-serving/adtech was an awesome delivery system which could be used to ship far more interesting stuff. Sticking close to marketing and advertising, we're already seeing companies like Outbrain using ad-like-tech to intelligently distribute content. But that's just the beginning. In the near term, I believe we need our digital publishers, marketers and agencies to shed the intellectual strait-jacket of "ad delivery" and move into the information delivery age. Anything and everything can move through the pipes we've created. The only bottleneck is our own imagination. I'll close with something I wrote back in 2005, which seems like an appropriate call to arms:
The tail has already started to wag the dog. Nearly all of the really interesting and important questions in the media world are either being answered online... Now is the time for a new level of dialogue with marketers; a dialogue rooted in confidence and opportunity.
Thanks John. And Happy Thanksgiving to all.
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