the evolution of advertising

one of the big reasons i prefer downloading telly on the internet is because rippers will take any adverts out of the downloadable files. Resultingly i haven’t watched a steady stream of telly commercials in about five years, and thus feel outside of that aspect of what i’m calling “advertising culture”. In this context, (call it Television Advertising Culture), even if someone who watches an advert has no interest and only a vague understanding of what the advert is about, they at least still see it, and if they see it often enough, they can at least *identify* it and it becomes as casual common knowledge as the weather.

Even though i’m outside of that direct television advertising culture, i’m still affected by it. i’ve never watched even a snippet of “Survivor”, nor have i ever seen an advert for it, nor do i care to know anything about it given my general loathe of reality telly. Yet i know the basic premise, i understand that the idea of being “voted off the island” comes from it, and i know that the show typically runs on thursday nights – all from word of mouth. And that’s just one example out of millions of telly shows, products, people, etc that are not simply given to promote an immediate sell or immediate gain, it’s a process of immersion, a way of slowly shaping aspects of thought and behaviour.

When the internet started to rise in prominence, early advertising came in the form of large click-banners. Click banners at that time were very straightforward – billboard style advertising that when you clicked brought you to the site and also a) paid the company responsible for the banner ad based on number of clicks, and b) logged information on clicks to either generate new sorts of clicks or sold that click information to other companies to send you more banners or send you spam.

Over the years, banner advertising has evolved and become more sophisticated. Banners that are contextual, banners made in flash that can react to your mouse movements, google’s revolutionary contextual “ad words”. But all of those sorts of advancements still follow the same basic paradigm of “clicks turn into money. clicks will get people to my website.” What those advancements lack is the ability to do what telly adverts do over the long term: create a sense of immersion. Part of that has to do with the nature of the advertising, but part of it has to do with the fact that web surfers are now so used to identifying banners and ad words that they know how to filter it out to grab main content.

Enter facebook.

Facebook has, in my opinion, managed to evolve past the mere click-banner form of advertising. Sure, they still have the basic banner advert on the left hand side of the screen which is generally difficult to completely ignore because the adverts are smart in how they’re generated. But Facebook also has other avenues of advertising both obvious and subtle that aren’t meant to be true click-ads; they’re ads that help create that same sense of immersion that television had full reign of so long ago.

One: Sponsored ads that are intertwined with news feeds. Internet magazine and news sites try to do this too by posting part of an article, then showing some ad links, then continuing with the article. That kinda works, but in that context it’s typically pretty easy to quickly distinguish between what’s article and what’s advert. But aside from a subtle “Sponsored” tag, sponsored adverts in the news feeds look practically identical to regular news feeds making it harder to filter out the content without at least some absorption of the content.

Two: Gifts. When i first signed up on fb, i didn’t understand the concept of fb gifts, but it’s become clearer now that gifts are another form of immersion advertising. A lot of the time, the gifts may be generic virtual objects, but every now and again, fb will make a Brand into a gift – a 7-11 Slurpee on free slurpee day, a little “Wall-E” doll on the weekend of the release of the movie. And it’s clear that gifts are treated that way because while i can remove the gift application from my profile page, i can’t turn notifications off about them on my news feed page.

Three: Becoming a “Fan” There are certainly things that i’m a “fan” of that i like to share with someone else if i think they’d also be interested, but becoming and sharing that you’re a “fan” of something on facebook doesn’t feel like that as much as free immersion advertising instigated by the populace. I’m a fan of Einsturzende Neubaten. If i made that public using facebook’s “fan” concept, it appears on my friends’ News Feeds not just telling them that i’m a fan, but with a promotional picture, a category classification saying that they’re “musicians”, and how many other people on fb are fans of Einturzende. Having only a seed of infomation saying “Mendel Lee is a fan of Einsturzende” will generally either get people to say, “oh cool!” if they also like the music, or have people shrug it off if they have no idea what or who Einsturzende is. But by adding those extra snippets of information, those that don’t know anything about Einsturzende now do. Oh, it’s a band. Mendel likes cool music. And look how many fans there are! Maybe i should check them out. And again – intertwined in the news feeds like the sponsored ads and the gift notifications.

While facebook isn’t as important to me as livejournal for keeping in touch with people, i do go on there on a daily basis to play loose voyeur like everyone else and to play prolific and the biggest brain app, and i’m coming to realize that i am in some degree back in an immersion advertising setting. it’s tricky, and very clever on the part of facebook, and i’m not sure if there’s anything that can be done about it other than deactivating my account – but it’s too late for that. Maybe just the awareness of it will help dull the effects of it all. We’ll see how i feel about it in, say, a year.