Magazine article The Futurist

The Future of Advertising

Magazine article The Futurist

The Future of Advertising

Article excerpt


Advertising will not disappear in the years ahead, and that may be for the best.

Some futurists who ponder the Information Age envision a surreal landscape of consumers battered and besieged by advertising, disillusioned and distressed by the barrage of "sell" messages and grasping for information of value that will not demand excessive time, extra cost, or stress. Looking ahead, these futurists envision the disappearance of advertising as consumers flock to services providing unbiased information.

Perhaps my 35 years in advertising and marketing has cracked my crystal ball, but allow me to offer a different perspective, based on the assumption that the presence of advertising in information media results in more-informed consumers and that advertising will continue in the future to produce this effect.

The presence of advertising in newspapers, television, and other informational media has benefits that may not be immediately apparent to the consumer. For instance, as Washington Post publisher Donald Graham recently noted, advertising has helped to establish, grow, strengthen, and protect newspapers: "Advertising enables us to put out what is really a very expensive publication--one we would probably have to charge $1.50 or $2 to cover costs if it were advertising-free." The Post currently sells for 25|cents~ a copy.

While some people may think that advertising challenges the media's ability to report the news without bias, Graham believes that the opposite is true. The presence of advertising dollars provides media owners in the United States with a substantial degree of independence from attempted assertions of control by special-interest groups, by government, and by powerful lobbies.

If the media were to rely solely on circulation revenue, the owners would be at the mercy of the government on a wide array of fronts, from the post office with its ability to regulate rates and set circulation policy to local legislatures with the power to establish sales taxes. These pressures and conditions would greatly diminish the incentive to report candidly and aggressively on government issues and news.

For these reasons, predictions that advertising will disappear or become completely separated from the information and entertainment media currently supported by it are unlikely to be validated.

Retailing Will Flourish

Another scenario of consumption in the Information Age--the end of retailing--is likewise unlikely to come true. Rather than giving way to catalogs, direct mail, or TV shopping channels, retailing will flourish, although it will of course change.

Retailing will never disappear because most people still like to shop; they consider it a welcome diversion, if not outright fun. Shopping has become in many instances a form of entertainment, in which advertising is an important and integral element.

One example of a successful change in retailing is the growth of mega-bookstores, such as Basset Books, Borders, Super Crown, and similar chains. These chains of bookstores provide tens of thousands of volumes, plus magazine racks, comfortable reading chairs for customers, a play section for children, and coffee bars with newspapers to read. In-store events such as autograph sessions, children's activities, special author and subject promotions, and a wide variety of reading-oriented entertainment all are forms of advertising that reinforce consumption of the product: books.

Value-added retailing increasingly will focus on service as a major point of differentiation for consumer products. By the end of the decade, most shoppers will have the choice to scan, checkout, and bag their own groceries (low added service value) or have them home delivered if desired (high added service value). Certainly neither choice foreshadows the disappearance of retailing.

An important element in retailing's continuing vitality is the value added by advertising. …

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