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Information Age: Brought To You By Advertising
By: Dwayne W. Waite Jr.
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We in AdLand know that the world, and the information in it, runs on advertising. Finally, a journalist at the Washington Post gives advertising its due. Advertising is not evil, nor is it trying to take over how information, news, and entertainment is distributed to different audiences. However, to say that advertising has done nothing to help in the spread of information would be a foolish statement.

Ezra Klein of the Washington Post gives advertising the credit it deserves for being one of the main vehicles in making information for consumers not only free, but accessible and, for the most part, objective. Klein first points out that in the 1800s, newspapers paired up with political parties and distributed news only about them. In return, the paper would receive more news and cash from party supporters, and even the political party itself. The rise of local advertisers made newspapers realize that there was more money out there. Papers then changed up their business strategy to focus on widening the audience and keeping the advertiser happy. There was shift in news coverage, too — the papers became less biased, more independent, and people picked up more papers.

Radio was no different. The term "soap opera" came from shows that were on the radio during the day that were sponsored by Proctor & Gamble, Lever Brothers, and Colgate-Palmolive. Without the sponsors (or advertisers) many of the stations may not have been able to survive. Today, our radio stations, public and private, receive money from businesses in order to fully operate.

The same goes on for TV, magazines, search engines, and yes, social media networks. Remember in the early 2000s, when Twitter was just starting to get popular, investors were wondering how Twitter was going to make money? The founders didn't think about creating a revenue stream. Lo and behold, along came advertising. Google is no longer known in the professional world as simply a search engine company; it is making bank in the online advertising world. 

Klein puts it nicely when he says, "From an economic standpoint, most information is simply a vehicle for advertising." Another way to put it is that advertising acts as a subsidy to the information world in order to make information less expensive for the consumer. So instead of the consumer reaping the heavier costs, and paying for the information themselves, advertising bears the brunt but gets the opportunity to get in front of the audience it is assisting.

In that mindset, advertising is far from destroying our way of life. It's the opposite; it is helping the Age of Information prosper.

On the other side, and Klein notes this as well, techies want to say that "information wants to be free," when really they want to design networks where advertising isn't necessary. They believe that consumers want information to be free. We would agree with Klein and argue that they might not want advertising to be seen. And with data-analytics and behavioral targeting, consumers are getting their wish.

A commenter on Klein's article wrote, "someone once told me that if you're not paying for it, then you are not the customer," which is a very interesting statement to think about. Think if advertising was out of the regular consumer's life. How many pay-gates would there be, how much would a cable or satellite subscription cost, and how much would a daily magazine or newspaper retail at? Because businesses want to connect with consumers, businesses make it easier for consumers to access information.

So when you say you want advertising out of your life, think a little bit harder about what you're really asking for. 


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About the Author
Dwayne W. Waite Jr. is partner and principal at JDW: The Charlotte Agency, a marketing and advertising shop in Charlotte, NC. He enjoys consumer behavior, economics, and football.
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