What could be better than advertising?

The Economist asks, Will Facebook, MySpace and other social-networking sites transform advertising? Good question, but it's the wrong one.

The right question is, Can we equip customers to become independent of sellers and their controlling intentions — Including the unwanted crap that constitutes far too much of the world's advertising? For the good of both sellers and buyers?

This question came up for me when I saw the third paragraph of the Economist piece:

Messrs Lazarsfeld and Katz, of course, assumed that most of these conversations and their implicit marketing messages would remain inaudible. That firms might be able to eavesdrop on this chatter first became conceivable in the 1990s, with the rise of the internet. Thus the main thesis of "The Cluetrain Manifesto", written in 1999, was that "markets are conversations" which the web can make transparent.

I'm not only a co-author of , but guilty of being the guy who foisted the "markets are conversations" line on the world in the first place. For all the good intentions behind that line, it's still woefully misunderstood, and what the Economist says in that paragraph is no exception.

Because we weren't just talking about "transparency". We were talking about turning markets into places where buyers were not just seen by sellers as cattle to be herded into walled gardens, as "targets" for one-way messages, or as tools for other marketing purposes.

To me the most powerful line in Cluetrain came from Chris Locke who wrote,

we are not seats or eyeballs or end users or consumers. we are human beings and our reach exceeds your grasp. deal with it.

"Deal with it" doesn't mean "Make better advertising" or "Target your advertising more effectively" or "Turn your users into marketers" (which is Facebook's latest idea). All that is just just more grasp.

What we need is better reach by customers. Better advertising doesn't do that. We need something else entirely. Something that lives on the customer side. Something that makes customers and users more powerful, more independent, more valuable than just "consumers" (which calls "gullets with wallets and eyeballs").

The problem we still have is a conceptual default. We think, talk and design "solutions" that work entirely on the sell side. We have CRM (customer relationship management) systems that are less about helping real customers than about "managing" them. What we need is VRM (vendor relationship management), by which customers get to manage vendors as well. With CRM+VRM, both sides can truly relate on mutually beneficial terms.

Until CRM meets VRM and starts working out real relationships, we'll keep thinking the only answers come from the sell side and keep putting old crap in new wrappers.

Meanwhile it will help to remember what advertising does and does not do.

Advertising is about supply finding and "creating" demand. Nothing wrong with that. At its best it's good and necessary stuff. But think about what will happen when demand can find and create supply. That's the real holy grail here. And it's one that will take fresh development effort on both the supply and demand sides. The difference between those two right now is that the supply side has been working on targeting, creating and controlling demand for the duration, and the demand side is still getting started.

Earliner this week at in Atlanta, my opening keynote explored the possibilities here. Because I think there are countless open source development projects, new and old, that can be put to use answering the question I raised in the second paragraph above. If you feel like naming some of those projects, and sharing your ideas about what we can do with them, weigh in through the comments section below.

I'll get that presentation up shortly. Watch this space for that.


Doc Searls is Senior Editor of Linux Journal


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I am not a "gullet with a wallet and eyeballs"

LenGould's picture

Excellent phrasing. Markets are conversations. And to the first comment, about customers developing their own cars, my response is "Why not?". I can easily envision a seriously enhanced version of a 3D mechanical drafting program which could have access to a central database of all parts and modules manufactured in the world for the auto industry. It could "drag and drop" eg a Ford hybrid power unit into a Toyota designed shell, then put in leather seats from Audi, an entertainment system from Bose, the front fascia of a Chrysler 300 and the tail section of a BMW, etc. etc. The software would automatically flag deficiencies and probably missing items as you went. ("Still need headlights" or "insufficient cooling for your climate" or "underpowered for typical hills in your region" or "insufficient front crumple zone" etc.) 3D solid modelling allows you to inspect as you go. If some requirement is unavailable ("No available half-shaft can connect that transmission to the front wheels. Get bids for custom or re-design?") Pricing interactive. At the end, one or more auto assembly plants near you bid on price to assemble and delivery date, several financial institutions bid to finance it, and several chain service centres bid to provide a 3 or 5 or whatever yr warranty, and when you commit, all suppliers get orders and delivery information for the required parts package to be assembled and scheduled into the assembler plant.

Nothing impossible there. Just a fancy piece of software.

Can you give some concrete examples?

KD's picture

I sympathize with the idea that the current practice of advertising is both annoying to the customer and inefficient for the seller, but I guess my imagination is not up to the task of understanding what you envision in its place.

"Demand creating supply" sounds interesting, but what would some practical examples be? I remember one example you've mentioned in the past: the community of open source programmers often consists of the users who need some software creating it themselves. That, I understand.

How many other areas is that applicable to? I find it a bit hard to imagine myself as a customer who wants, say, some deodorent or a car getting together with others who want the same and creating it. Is there some other sense of "demand creating supply" that I should imagine in those two cases? Or in any cases besides community-created software?

Please understand that I'm not trying to make fun of the notion or criticize it in any way. I just feel I don't understand very well what you mean and I'd like to understand it better. If there is a good description somewhere on the web, just point to it and I'll be happy to go read it.


TedC's picture

A new model is in order... The future is people owning their own data, all their data, everywhere. No surprises, nothing unwanted.

New Economy

Ritesh Bawri's picture

I agree with Doc that there is a need for a new paradigm. One that creates an efficient pipeline of information or thin pipeline between customers and vendors. Please read more about my views at http://riteshbawri.blogspot.com/2007/11/information-pipeline_16.html

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