Last week, Adweek published an article about the role out of Google Fiber’s test of an ad tracking system in the Kansas City market. The program will track exactly how may people saw your ad, and it will be able to dynamically insert advertisements based on information Google has about who is in the household watching a particular program at a particular time.
Gizmodo picked up the piece and carried on breathlessly about how this is a brave new world and it will upend television forever, leading to better targeting but more inventory and plunging costs, a la digital. You would think by the astonished tone, it was as unexpected as Hannibal’s elephants crossing the Alps or humankind’s landing on the Moon.
And it would be, if we haven’t had this kind of capability for some years now from other players who got there first. Maybe it’s like the elephants or a Moon landing, but only if when getting there you found Barnum and Baily circus was already in Rome for a 4 week run of shows, and the Moon was in the midst of a third subdivision of single-family homes.
A quote regularly misattributed – or misquoted – to William Gibson is that the future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed.
Neither the Adweeek article nor the Gizmodo piece call it this, but what Google Fiber says its going to test is more or less what has been called addressable TV. And there are company’s that have been doing it for quite a few years now. Simulmedia has been at it since 2009. Invidi Technologies has been around since 2000, and has an addressable TV offering for some time.
The only difference between what those companies can do and what Google Fiber wants to test is that the latter is Google. And they are only in 3 markets (Kansas City, Provo, UT; and Austin). The only way Google Fiber would be a game changer is if it a) got everyone to adopt their box vs. the already installed cable box or satellite TV box in most homes, and b) altered the format of TV advertising so much that it would create billions and billions of additional impressions in the way that, say, web sites have with the banner marketplace.
A TV viewing experience that brings to it the worst of online? Bleck.
Without that kind of devastating, planetary shift, the other outcome – plunging prices for TV advertising – just won’t materialize.
There will not be the kind of downward cost pressure on inventory because if the inventory is going to be MORE targetable, competitors for the right kind of targeted inventory will increase, and availability will decrease. While what gets left behind after its run through the targeting sieve will see its rates go down, the rest is going to see rates rise.
What advertisers seek is what they’ve always sought: engagement. What makes engagement possible is interest, attention and opportunity. The level of targeting addressable TV makes possible positions it to better capitalize on the intersection of that triumvirate. But unless what is found over time is that a change in advertising length materializes so that it is shorter, it isn’t more inventories that result. And even if it were, the kind of supply-and-demand issues mentioned above still remains.
But when all is said and done, none of this still solves the bigger problem advertising has, in any medium: effectiveness.
The human being’s relationship with advertising vacillates somewhere between passive ennui and managed hostility. Relevance might move the needle closer to passive ennui, but it’s never going to do anything to make people “like” advertising and feel it delivers them value. Concepts like relevance and viewer value as they relate to advertising are concepts the industry sells to itself; regular folks don’t see it and don’t care. People might be interested in your product and service, but they aren’t interested in it right now. They’ve got a political screen on Facebook to post, or videos of cats being slid across a hardwood floor to watch.
Attention, interest, opportunity. Relevance might contribute some to the first because it is related to the second; visual or narrative stimulation also helps. Shorter length can help with the third — opportunity. It’s better targeting that attempts to find where the three connect.
But it isn’t any proposed technology that is changing the game. It’s people. And advertisers and marketers better start paying attention to them.
Jim Meskauskas is a co-founder and Chief Strategic Officer of Media Darwin, a consultancy specializing in strategic planning of commercial communicative action. He’s a medialogist who has spent the last 20 years living, breathing and thinking about how to use media to move people to action. Outside of that, his likes are horror movies, Southeast Asian cuisine, his wife and his cat — not necessarily in that order. His dislikes are mean people, people who text while walking in or out of the subway entrances, pestilence, war, famine and death.