How Technology Exposes Advertising’s Lethal Gene

How Technology Exposes Advertising’s Lethal Gene

Since Charles Darwin penned on the Origin of Species back in 1859, terms like natural selection have become part of our lexicon. I want to use the evolution metaphor to consider what’s happening to advertising today.

First, some background. According to Darwin, organisms are constantly locked in an evolutionary arms race to adapt to changes in their environment. Warmer seas have bleached much of the coral in the Great Barrier Reef. The coral that survives does so by virtue of some genetic ability to survive warmer oceans. And because it survives, it procreates and produces more coral with its genetic makeup. This is sometimes referred to as survival of the fittest.

Now let’s think about advertising. Largely unchanged since Darwin’s time, it recently ran smack-bang into its own environmental pressure: technology.

Technology is a poison to advertising’s central tenet; namely, interruption. Adobe’s research in February 2016 revealed 1 in 5 adults already use ad-blockers in the UK, and this is growing fast, especially among millennials. Add to this the explosion of video on demand services, like Netflix and personal video recorders which can skip through ads, and it becomes clear that interruptive advertising is facing an uphill battle to do its job of drawing attention. As technology progresses, it will find more and more ways to interfere with interruptive advertising.

Yes, interruptive advertising has tried to adapt. Clickbait is a case in point: those intriguing sounding links that just take you to some spammy webpage that wastes your time. Guess what? Facebook has just introduced an algorithm to weed out clickbait links on its platform. The race is on for advertising to evolve to adapt to this new environment, and those forms of advertising that make superficial changes but are still inherently reliant on their lethal gene of ‘interruption’, are being eradicated.

And here’s the kicker, it takes time for organisms to adapt to the new status quo. They have to go through a series of mutations, which is like rolling dice and hoping one of those mutations will help them survive before the entire species is pushed off a cliff by accountants growing tired of diminishing returns.

Bringing us to the moral of this story: advertisers and their agencies need to start experimenting ‘right now’ to find mutations that can survive, and thrive, in a future defined by technology under human control. There are some promising starts already as explained in this article on the native content space, but there’s a whole world of possibilities still to explore.


Written by Russell Turner 

Strategy Director at REBORN