Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Where is the 21st Century Don Draper?

Yesterday, I posted a bit about the impact of the internet on advertising--perhaps anticipating the return of Mad Men in the aftermath of my Harry Potter obsession. Today, Salon has a great piece about the realities of advertising and what happened to the business in the 1960s. Turns out Sterling Cooper is much further behind the times than is already portrayed as other firms already had women in key positions, but also as the business changed to focus less on wordy ads and more on emotional ones.

I closed yesterday's post with a speculation that I did not develop particularly well--that with the rise of the internet, advertising would decline in cost. As someone with no advertising expertise or business experience, let me continue my uninformed speculation. Advertisting, as I have always understood it, exists because the assumptions of the market are wrong--that we don't have perfect information about the goods and services we seek, so intermediaries can spring up to tell us which products are more desirable (and, also, we can be persuaded to re-think what we desire). It might be the case that we are getting closer to perfect, cost-free information with the internet. It is far easier to advertise online via craigslist or one's own website to sell stuff including real estate. This is what is killing the newspapers and what may transform television.

But if it is easy to advertise without sophisticated ad campaigns, we should expect smaller and less expensive advertising companies who can figure out how to ease one's entry onto the net. This should lead to less expenses for businesses seeking to advertise and cheaper products as a key expense declines. We are already seeking companies drop sponsorships of golf tournaments, rights to their names on stadia, etc.

Ah, but there is a catch. Too much information is not perfect information. There will still need to be experts who can get a key message heard above the cacophony. So, ultimately, advertising companies will not go away, but will have to transform themselves to do better in this information-rich environment. So, I guess I am not saying, Mothers, don't let your children grow up to be Ad People (or Mad Men, who, according the Salon piece, died out a long time ago). But we are, as the Chinese proverb goes, living in interesting times.

PS The image was made using amctv.com's make yourself a Mad Men game--I am the one with the beard.

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