THE BLOG

Can Advertising Be Content?

04/06/2013 13:12 BST | Updated 04/08/2013 10:12 BST

Last week I took delivery of my new LG smart TV and TiVo.

It is wired to all things broadcast - terrestrial, satellite and Internet.

It is tuned in to past, present and future broadcast.

Now it doesn't matter that I can't count how many channels I have. All I have to do is think of what I want to watch and hey presto it's there. My 25-year DVD library is also winking at me permanently, now playing better than ever through my Blu-ray.

What I want to watch is now no longer classified as a programme. It is "content". Such is the impressive march of the Digital Age that everything viewable and listenable is reduced to bits and bytes.

"The Lord of the Rings Trilogy" and "Heir Hunters" are different only in their budget and skill. They are both ultimately just "content" to be "consumed".

But what to watch? Way back when, I was told what to watch by the Big Four broadcasters. Now I have to edit my own viewing.

This editing is a challenge because new forms of viewing content are becoming prevalent; from Netflix, Amazon and YouTube (all providing global content) to the hundreds of fragmented digital channels you can watch whenever, however and wherever you want.

The new content providers are ushering in new viewing patterns. "Binge-Viewing" is not a result of the way content is delivered, or even watched; it's a strategy.

Second-Screen technology is enhancing existing viewing by recognising that we now watch TV and surf our iPads and Smartphones simultaneously. When used imaginatively 3rd party providers as well as original broadcasters can add value to broadcasting. Think David Beckham commenting via smartphone on a World Cup Final.

I am now learning to be my own editor of everything that was, is and will be available. It's a big ask though. I now have to focus more on what is available than ever before. I focus on content.

No more slump-in-the-sofa somnambulant evenings for me.

This focus has required me to review my thirty-five year personal and professional relationship with advertising.

I now choose not to watch it.

Obviously! Who would choose to watch advertising?

After all, there's so much good viewing out there. I still haven't got through all of The West Wing yet.

A quick office poll reveals the same. If we could avoid watching advertising we would.

But here's the rub. If companies could avoid spending on Advertising they would. It's a sum that comes straight off the bottom line.

Some companies have never advertised.

The Body Shop was, and is, not an advertiser (they produced one tactical ad, once).

Costco is not an advertiser. By not advertising, Costco saves two per cent of its budget each year and can invest more in employee pay and benefits, according to Jim Sinegal, the chief executive.

The reduction of everything to "content" now requires all content to be attractive. If it isn't, people won't be attracted to it.

Not everyone has a TiVo, tablet or smartphone. But they soon will.

We now enter an age where surely we cannot expect audiences to be sitting dutifully and observantly while the ads tell them what to buy.

P&G, for me one of the most innovative advertisers, is now embarking on a major review of how it measures the impact of its $5 billion-plus annual advertising outlay.

It's a big decision and the outcome will be eagerly watched.

Because the truth is this. The Digital Age gives an option for people to avoid advertising. And, curiously, for an industry so software heavy, it still finds ad measurement difficult. (The only medium -in the UK - that you can now actually measure with 100% accuracy, is cinema).

For people to engage with commercial messaging in the future, advertising must be seen as "content".

And it must compete as "content". That means employing money, art and intelligence, like the competitors.

Will it, can it, step up to the challenge?