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Privacy Concerns and Digital Advertisers: Why Brands That Demand Attention Will Lose out in the Post-Peak Shift of the Attention Economy

Photo of Hanna Kahlert
by Hanna Kahlert

Mid-2019 sees the digital market mid-quagmire. The saturation of the attention economy is driving further and further competition between brands to create propositions that can stand out enough to earn adoption, in a market where overwhelming choice vastly outweighs the total adoption potential of consumers.

Whether it is independent artists being able to create their own bespoke labels undermining the traditional majors model, or consumers cutting the telco cord to create personalised subscription video on demand (SVOD) portfolios which can be renewed or cancelled  on a monthly basis, the options are multiplying and democratisation of service usage is developing rapidly. Consumers no longer need choose the least-worst option and stick with it; no matter what they seek, they can now choose the best of any to suit specifically themselves and change their minds whenever.

Somewhere amidst all of this, advertising has managed to stay afloat as the de-facto monetising factor for most services with inherently lukewarm profit margins. With so many consumers now safely behind paywalls (however temporarily), providers are scrambling to figure out how to slip in acceptable advertising to maintain financial equilibrium.

This strategy, to anyone paying attention to the underlying consumer trends driving the migration behind paywalls, increased ineffectiveness of served advertising, and the rise of legitimate propositions behind a competitive edge rather than mere branding or limited option, is destined to fail – and is, indeed, a mindset rapidly becoming a relic of an increasingly outdated market dynamic.

In the era of a Cambridge Analytica scandal compromising the perceived security of social media and the dominance of previously seemingly immovable Facebook, and a universally understood problem of “fake news”, the realistic viability of being able to tell consumers anything as a means of convincing them to purchase a product is now no longer possible. If there is one lesson consumers are learning hard in 2019, it is that nothing is true, and loyalty is useless in the face of exponential innovation. Advertising tells convenient – not complete – truths, and the more someone wants you to believe something, the less likely it is to be true.

Enter innovation. Advertising itself has a bad reputation amongst consumers these days – they ignore ads, install adblockers, and pay extra to escape the constant deluge behind paywalls. However, at its core, advertising is essential to communication. From the very first parchment nailed to a town centre post, to banner ads for Amazon Prime, advertising is designed to transmit a message from one group to another: this is who we are, this is what we do, this is why you should get on board. This principle is inalienable and not at all outdated – it is simply the (frankly invasive) approach which needs to evolve.

From music to media, singular global phenomena are being rapidly replaced by specialised niches tailored to audience specifics, and the fragmenting of message means there is room for greater depth and incisive investigation. Consumers have become immunised to which advertisement is the shiniest; they now want to know which brands practice what they preach. That information is imminently available at the fingertips of anyone with a smartphone (which is everyone) and, just as the data privacy of consumers is traded as a cheap commodity amongst corporations, their own character and activity is fully available to the public should they know where to look.

It is not enough to expect surface-level, served advertising to work simply because it has been appropriately placed in a Stranger Things episode. The need of brands for attention has outpaced the actual supply, putting consumers in the position of power to decide where to spend it. Only advertisers who recognise this and can live up to their own promises will be successful. The rest will eventually be passed over for something better, cheaper, more ethical, or more convenient – and less annoyingly intrusive on valuable attention time. In the market of plenty, there is always a better option.

To get involved in the discussion, come to our free event tomorrow, Monetising Fandom in a Fragmented Content Landscape – Wednesday July 17 2019.

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