April 14th, 2011
What would Don Draper do?
I guess it’s only fitting that a larger debate over the advertising-content balance has been inadvertently initiated by contract negotiations over AMC’s “Mad Men”—a show about the early struggles to create and maximize that very balance. At the center of the spat between AMC suits and “Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner was the execs’ demand that the series be cut by at least two minutes per show so that more ads could air. Ultimately, Weiner largely agreed to AMC’s demands to shave off time from most episodes.
During the brouhaha, AdAge insisted that the program “needs to embrace more advertising, not shun it” because “Mad Men” (supposedly) doesn’t generate enough revenue. Time’s James Poniewozik countered that “it will do no one any good to compromise the show that made the channel’s brand for quality overnight.”
I lean toward Poniewozik’s camp, both for the reason he cites and for the deeper issue at hand—namely, the need to reimagine the advertising-versus-content paradigm in the 21st century.
The Web, email, podcasts and streamable/rippable online video combines a new search-and-aggregation culture with sheer infiniteness. Couple that with the now-ubiquitous use of DVR, and content has not only been disaggregated from its branded source, but also has had its old bonds to advertising severely weakened. Keep throwing circumventable ads at the audience, and they’ll just keep fast forwarding or clicking past them. Make ads technologically unavoidable, and the audience will likely go somewhere else because content consumers surfing the infinite Internet are no longer physically captive to a confined set of old-media conduits—they can and will find compelling content that has fewer ads.
Considering all that, unless media outlets are fusing unavoidable ads to truly unique products, those outlets will likely suffer if they stick to the old advertising-content formulas.