Thought experiment on advertising: Transforming it into something valuable

What if advertising moves from being a distraction to being something that adds value to people’s lives?

Many thing that advertising serves the purpose of providing people the power to choose. Ads are delivered to them, whether by traditional media or digital devices, and it allows them the power to choose which brands they’d like to buy. These ads influence people, both explicitly (people develop opinions of the brand) and implicitly (people may not be conscious that they are developing latent feelings about the brand).

Moving from distraction

What if the model is turned on its head and instead of advertising agencies delivering “ads” to people, people seek these content instead? You may argue that this is happening now, through the search engines that allow people to discover content, but this idea goes beyond that. What if we do away with preset ad formats and overtly embed the products in the content that is produced? For example, a magazine like Vogue can take off ads on its site, but add a cosmetics product like Smashbox into its content (ie. in an article like “Top 10 Lipsticks for this Season”).

The issue here that people may raise is the separation between product promotion and editorial values. If magazines are paid to write about products, it will likely be positive– the advertiser wouldn’t want their products featured in a negative way in a magazine article. The magazine will comply lest the advertiser pull out dollars from the magazine and give it to another that can write a positive review.  This being an issue, why don’t advertisers create their owned media content that magazines could feature? Like advertorials (though advertorials are written by the editorial staff sometimes).

Moving into something that adds value

What if ads provide an intrinsic value than just being something deemed by many as clutter on a page? If people can derive more value from ads, they will be more engaged and it will move advertising toward something that is more enriching to people’s lives. Currently, advertising is a time suck. People see ads on a page and they groan. Some ads are disruptive that they have to exit out of, some semi-disruptive that they have to wait a few seconds before getting to the content. This creates negative emotions in people: annoyance, frustration, impatience.

What if ads are assigned values that people can extract? Likening it to money, where each piece of display ad is something that can be exchanged for something more useful. Beyond coupons distributed through advertising. Perhaps these can be pieces they can seek across various websites, that when collected, can be redeemed for an actual product rather than just a percent off. Maybe these ads can be clicked on or watched, and people score points by doing so, which they can redeem as credits for more content or actual products.

When I was in Costa Rica in 2012, this occurred to me: people are very poor in some parts of the world that they can’t even buy products they need. And their needs are similar to ours, at its most basic: food, shelter, clothing. What if we set something up so that these people who need your products, earn some monetary value (ie. points) out of advertising, so they can redeem them for products they can put on the table? These are people who have real needs, people who need the products we advertise, but for manufacturers, they present an unprofitable market. Their question is: why would you communicate with someone who CANNOT even buy your products, when you can communicate with those who CAN but don’t?

But then, why would advertisers message only to those who can buy their products and do not need them, when there are plenty of people who actually needs these products? Sure, they don’t have the means to buy products, but what if we give them the means to earn the products? It’s like giving them a job to seek advertising messages, earn something out of it, and spend those earnings in exchange for something tangible.

There has to be a way to serve the needs of business to maximize profits, while at the same time, improving lives of those who have unmet needs. This goes beyond nonprofit/donations. It is about finding a profitable market while at the same time serving society’s needs.


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