Adam Gartenberg's Blog

Business Analytics and Optimization, IBM and Social Marketing

It’s 2009, so why are we still advertising like it’s 1959?


In just over two weeks, tens of millions of us will gather in front of our TVs to watch the Superbowl and be presented with a slew of high-end ads, ads for which companies will have shelled out $3M for 30 seconds.  

Afterwards, there will be the usual dialogue about which ads were hits and which were misses, and the marketing press and blogosphere will be filled with speculation on how those same companies could have better spent their $3M by reaching out to customers in other ways, building communities and networks, and otherwise creating awareness and increasing sales without cutting so deep into their marketing budget.

My question leading up to this event, though, is even broader.  Why, in 2009, am I still watching the same ads as everyone else?

My neighbor and I both may tune in to American Idol, even though I'm a 30-something with a post-graduate degree and three young children, and he's a 70-something retiree who spends his time playing golf, not board games.  So why is it that we both get presented with the exact same advertisements just because we watch the same show?

I've got a DVR that's provided by my cable company.  Why, instead of the networks or my local affiliate or cable company serving up my ads every seven minutes, doesn't my DVR kick in and show me an ad that was previously downloaded just for me?  The technology to do so can't possibly be that hard.  My DVR already knows what shows are on; all it would need would be information on when to break away and serve up a commercial.  We could even end up with more programming and fewer commercials, as companies stopped needing to show their commercials to people out of their target market just because they didn't fit the core demographic for the program.

To better target those ads, we as viewers could be asked to trade personal profile information in return for lower TV bills.  Sure, many people might not want to share any information, but I could also see many opting in. (Wait, let me make sure I've got this right:  You're going to charge me less and stop showing me all of those annoying ads for cholesterol drugs and pickup trucks?)

Even without me offering up information, there's a lot you can glean just from my viewing patterns (heck, it's worked for Google so far).  I watch American Idol, but also a lot of Disney and Nickelodeon?  Send me those commercials for Pampers and Fisher Price.  My neighbor watches the World War II channel almost exclusively when not watching American Idol?  He might be a better target for that denture cream I keep getting confronted with.

If articles like this are accurate, the advertising industry is already not heading in the right direction.  I can't imagine that Google wouldn't love to get their hands on our TV in addition to our browsers.  Maybe if we're lucky it will happen before 2059.

photo (c) Time inc.