US media critic Bob Garfield has spent his life observing journalism and advertising and believes marketing will be governed by a different form of relationship with audiences.
As editor of MediaPost and host of National Public Radio’s In The Media show with an audience of 1.1 million, Mr Garfield has spent decades “worrying about how advertising worked”: whether it was good or bad, indifferent, unethical or sloppy.
He says he is now less interested in advertising because “I think it has already lost primacy”.
“The future of marketing will have everything to do with direct, one-to-one relationships between brands – and all institutions – and individuals at scale,” he says.
Marketing, Mr Garfield explains, isn’t about dictating messages to audiences anymore; audiences are not paying much attention to marketers. “They’re paying attention to what other people have to say about marketers,” he says. “The fundamentals of marketing have altered in the digital revolution, in ways both utopian and dystopian.”
Mr Garfield will be talking about this revolution and what it really means for advertisers and publishers at Media Connect, part of the ADMA Global Forum in Sydney next month – and he won’t be shying away from his view of the truth.
Perhaps the biggest impact of the digital revolution was that it “undid…guaranteed profitability for publishers who had always been the beneficiaries of huge barriers of entry,” Mr Garfield says.
“If you wanted to start a newspaper or a broadcast station, we’re talking hundreds of millions of dollars, and now it costs the price of an iPhone.
“In that world, when you lose your monopoly power, you go into a glutted market place, you lose your profitability and that’s exactly what’s happening.
“To my knowledge, no one has really come up with the magic beans that are going to somehow turn into a flourishing environment for everybody.”
For brands, he says, it may be the cultivation of relationships with consumers that mirror relationships between human beings.
“They must have the same dialogue and mutual trust that govern ordinary human relationships between family and friends and neighbours” – which is why Mr Garfield, a “professional sceptic”, is bullish about the need for corporate entities to cling to human values and human ethics. “They will be heavily rewarded for so doing and heavily penalised if they don’t,” he says. “This is not just happy talk, these things play out in dollars and cents.”
The likes of Amazon, Nike and Apple are examples of successful brands in this sense, according to Mr Garfield, while Google and Facebook are among the only two companies who have evaded the digital dystopia by directly providing services consumers intrinsically need.
For media, who are by name and nature “the middle man”, the solution is less clear. One thing not helping the cause of journalism, he says, is native advertising – in fact, it is “about the worst thing that’s happened in advertising since I’ve been following it for 40 years,” he says.
“I think it’s self-feeding, it’s a conspiracy of misrepresentation, and I think it will squander the very thing that it sells.
“An analogy I use is of a tiny island in Micronesia, Nauru. It was the most prosperous nation on earth in terms of per capita wealth. Why? Not because they were an industrious people; au contraire, they didn’t work. It was a welfare state and all the work was done by imported migrants from Fiji.
“That work was running heavy equipment to scrape the one natural resource from Nauru and send it away on ships for export, and that export was seagull droppings. Over the eons, it had built up this crust that was prime material for phosphate fertiliser.
“People sat there and drank beer while this heavy equipment scraped off the guano and everyone was fat and happy. The problem is, in the early 1990s, they ran out of guano. Now they are not the most prosperous country in the world. Capital has plummeted and their society is barely functioning.
“The point is,” Mr Garfield explains, “they took their one resource and they shipped it away, and that’s exactly what publishers are doing with native advertising.
“They are taking that trust and they are exporting it, one boatload at a time.”
The magic beans, it is clear, lay dormant elsewhere – and the industry’s fertile minds need to act sooner rather than later, he says.
Mr Garfield will speak at the ADMA Media Connect conference on July 29. The Newspaper Works has partnered with ADMA for the 2014 Global Forum. As part of the partnership, readers and subscribers of The Newspaper Works can secure a 25 per cent discount to various sessions of the conference if they enter the code NEWS25 when purchasing tickets from the ADMA Global Forum website.
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