The New Advertising Model Isn't Advertising (Which Makes It Great Advertising)
It may not be revolutionary or surprising for people who have been paying attention to the web and how its fundamentally changing the traditional Madison Avenue model of advertising but this NYT article should cement the idea for everyone.
Whether it was Adam Curry talking about podcasts changing the media world or the Gillmor Gang engaged in deeply technical Web & geek discussions/rants, the basic premise has been that with so many media options available to people now, attention is the now the most scarce resource.
Combined with the fact that the general public has been tired, immune, and oppositional to advertising everywhere we go, everywhere we look, etc., and you have a recipe for the slow death (or at least lobotomy) of the traditional advertising model. And don't think of the repercussions only for the web, the change will affect advertising across all channels and mediums.
So what does the new advertising model look like?
It's advertising that more closely reflects content that we actually want. It's more than being less explicit with your branding message (side note there — you no longer have complete control, or any depending on your industry, over your brand so get over this fact and work with the system of blogs, wikis, user-generated content, etc. to help your brand remain successful) or engaging in product placement, consumers can see right through that crap.
This quote from the article sums it up nicely (emphasis added):
"Behind the shift is a fundamental change in Nike's view of the role of advertising. No longer are ads primarily meant to grab a person's attention while they're trying to do something else — like reading an article. Nike executives say that much of the company's future advertising spending will take the form of services for consumers, like workout advice, online communities and local sports competitions."
Note the critical part: how do we approach consumers given their attention scarcity, e.g. not interrupt what they want to do or read with in-your-face ads that aren't targeted, and actually deliver meaningful, value-add content, help, or resources for them.
Likening this form of advertising as value-add content gets us thinking in the right direction. Maybe it's not really 'content' per see because it still is content with a purpose (what content however is without a purpose, explicit or not?) but it's much closer to content than it is to traditional advertising.
It will take various forms as Nike suggests, and be across all mediums but there will be at least one consistent theme: new advertising will be information or content that perhaps a person didn't know about or wasn't actively seeking out BUT it will still align with their needs, goals, objectives and will ultimately help them.
If advertising used to be about how to get people to want/buy your product or service, it's now about helping people understand how your product or service fits in their busy lives. Or put another way, it's getting back to the very earliest and most effective form of advertising: word of mouth.
There's going to be lots of hits and misses as marketers, advertisers, and consumers try to figure out all of the exact details of this new world but it's coming whether you like it or not.
And the longer you wait, as Seth Godin points out recently regarding the music industry (the ongoing meme on The Radiohead Effect) that is also experiencing drastic, paradigm changing forces, the longer you wait to embrace the world the longer you'll remain in mediocrity.
UPDATE: Wrote this originally on the bus returning from NYC so I cleaned up formatting and did spell checking.