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The Death of the Captive Audience: How Can Companies Revise Online Marketing Strategies?

6 April 2009 No Comment

I’ve always found the concept of advertising to be sort of curious. Why, after all, would I want a company’s best pitch-man/woman selling me their wares? That opinion is going to be light on criticism and high on hyperbole. I’ve always preferred to get my information from “experts” of one kind or another who can give me an educated opinion on what types of products I should buy. By this, I don’t mean I have no mind of my own; rather I seek out information about whatever item I wish to buy.

I will take notice of ads if they are executed with the same level of elegance and sophistication of this 1983 commercial for the Atari game Pole Position .

When I (unofficially) graduated from Rowan in 2006, I wanted to buy a new television. So I did research online, and settled on a Sony Bravia. I never saw ads for the set I wanted, but that had little sway over me. I did see Panasonic, Samsung, and even Hitachi ads, however. But the ads didn’t mean anything to me because I educated myself about the product I was buying. Considering the dearth of websites that are devoted to educating their audiences, I’m guessing I’m not alone. Lots of other people want to be informed about the products they are buying.

Aside from sites such as US News and World Report, CNET, Wired, and any number of other specialty sites that review and evaluate products, many seek other people’s opinions via message boards. Whereas I don’t trust ads, some people may not trust “expert” websites, and would opt instead to seek out other “regular” users’ opinions.

Ad blockers such as AdsCleaner (pictured above) remove ads from the html, letting browsers decode sites, now ad-free. The growing use of such applications further makes online ads less relevant.

Either way, ads are becoming less relevant. When we look at the growth of enthusiast sites and the speed in which word-of-mouth information can travel online, it’s clear that ads can only have so much influence. When we remember that the web audience is no longer captive to any site for content, it would probably signal the death knell of ads. A recent article on Techdirt sums up the situation.

While people can always gripe about the relevance of a particular expert’s opinion of a product compared to a non-expert, I find this development encouraging because now, companies must be held accountable, and produce good products, or else be blasted on the web. If I have $100 to spend on item X, and there are five versions of item X, but with varying build quality and features, I have the choice. The ball’s in my court, and any company that produces and inferior product will be ignored.

I hope companies will spend more money making their products worthwhile and less time selling them to me. If I’m in the market, and their wares are the best value I can get, I’ll buy.

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