The Chaos Scenario — Chicken Little was right!

In his current episode of the podcast Jaffe Juice, Joseph Jaffe talks to Bob Garfield about his latest in a series of Ad Age articles on the death of media and advertising as we know it (“Future May Be Brighter, but It’s Apocalypse Now,” Advertising Age Online, March 23, 2009).  In this most recent piece on what Bob has called The Chaos Scenario, he presents growing evidence that the business model of traditional media, based on content creation funded by advertising revenues, is coming undone faster than anyone may have imagined.

The written word is a wonderful thing, but actually to hear Bob discuss and elaborate upon his perspectives in the interview is an eye opener.  Those of us who think about social media already know a lot of this, but to listen to the man who still reviews the Superbowl commercials every year predict the demise of the 30″ TV commercial really makes an impression.  You can’t help but feel Chicken Little was right.  The sky really is falling.  (And in a few years I may be out of a job!)

Here are some of the key points that stuck in my mind:

The old advertising model is dying, if not already dead, because it’s built upon  two pillars that are crumbling:

1) Good content is scarce, 2) You can force people to look at advertising in exchange for that content.

YouTube has already taken a big bite out of the first pillar, and the adaption of TiVo and DVR’s is eating away at the second one.

Still, consumer generated content alone will never replace professionally produced content like Lost and Grey’s Anatomy.  And while newspapers in their current form are clinging to life, there will always be demand and a need for objective, well-researched reporting and journalistic excellence.  Indeed a democratic society depends upon it.  Gen Y’ers may ascribe to the philosophy that content should be free, but it isn’t.  Or at least much good content isn’t.  Talented directors and serious journalists also have to eat, buy clothes and support families.

Right now it’s easy enough to say good content should be free because there’s still plenty of it around that you can get for free, even as the revenue sources and models that fund the production of it are drying up.   But imagine a day when there are no newspapers like The New York Times, no magazines like The New Yorker, and nothing on TV except low-cost production reality shows.  If that day ever comes, people will be starved for something better.  And they’ll pay for better fare in one currency or another.  But it will no longer be by subjecting themselves to advertising that bores and irritates them.

We are observing a sea change — a major upheaval on a par with the industrial revolution and other historical movements that changed society forever.

I think this is true.  And as Bob points out, it will effect every part of society, not just marketing and communications.  The power has truly shifted from the top of the pyramid, to the bottom — the crowd, thanks to the digital and social media revolution that is enabling people to connect and wield collective power like never before.

People are still interested in products and brands.  They’re just not interested in advertising.

I don’t completely agree with this.  People are not interested in advertising for products in which they have no interest.  I have argued elsewhere on this blog that the 30″ commercial is actually a very efficient tool to learn quickly about a product and its benefits.  The problem is an ineffective distribution system that places too many commercials in front of the wrong people.

I do agree that advertising in future will be a small part of a rich pallet of consumer-brand interactions, enabled by the internet and social media, that shifts the relationship between the brand and the consumer from one-way telling and selling to collaboration, dialogue and partnership.

The Chaos Scenario — soon to be a new book and a platform for conversation.

the-chaos-scenario2Bob will soon be packaging his thinking into a suprisingly old media form — a book.  He’s also created a web site — www.thechaosscenario.net — that he promises will be more than just an online promotion for the book, but a place for people to come together and share thinking on the topic.  It’s not active yet, but you can already go and sign up to receive updates as the project progresses.  I for one will be watching, listening and participating.

2 Comments

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2 responses to “The Chaos Scenario — Chicken Little was right!

  1. 2bnmaine

    It’s the word ‘advertising’ that’s dying.

    The function of advertising — to emotionally connect a product/service with it’s customer — is still needed. Actually more than ever.

    We just need to come up with a new word based on new models, using new techniques.

    It’s very exciting actually.

    BTW — I never considered Garfield a sage.

  2. Full disclosure, I’m Bob’s publishing partner.

    Bob’s book is now available in paperback from Amazon or direct from the publisher at a discount if you order early http://www.thechaosscenario.net.

    Bob is also organizing a national month-long event in October to help the industry focus on these issues and assemble new digital tools into solutions. It’s called 30 Days of Chaos, it’s free, and you can learn more about it and sign up at the same website.

    Oh, and you can download three free chapters there too. GS

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