Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Blurring of Advert and Content

I recently ran across an article on how to write better headlines. Yea, I thought, I'll improve my blog by writing better blog titles. So, I read the article.

Basically, the gist of that article is this. Make a big, explicit promise in your headline to attract more readers. There are variations on this theme like phrasing the headline like a how to get something desirable or avoid something undesirable. Other suggestions include using popular keywords and using numbered lists, all in the service of attracting readers by promising something for nothing.

I recognized this advice as techniques used in effective advertising. I realized that, to the writer of this article that I read, all professional blogs are advertisements cleverly disguised as content.

I remember seeing this billboard back in the 80's. It was mostly blank with the following words. Advertising, because without it, you wouldn't know. The trend to blur the distinction between content and advertising has continued to escalate ever since.

Why? Well, back in the 80's people generally tended to view content as desirable and advertising as a necessary evil for getting content for free or almost free. So, you get to watch your favorite TV program but at a cost of having to watch the commercials or you get to read news over the web but at a cost of having a banner ad display along with it. I believe that when content and advertising is framed separately, people get annoyed at it and learn techniques for avoiding the advertising. TiVo or popup blocker, anyone?

The advertisers don't want to be avoided. They paid good money for mind share. So the media channels, wanting more advertising money, work out ways to blur the distinction between the desired content and the annoying advert. Ergo, product placement or, apparently, blogs (gulp).

Some blogs. Not all blogs. I still believe in the blog as opinion piece rather than puff piece. Opinion pieces are what you will see here. Pieces that share my observations, hopefully in a way that invites you to think about what's important to you. That is why I have a blog titled What Does it Mean to be of Service instead of How to Beat the Repairman at His Own Scam.

Of course, if the advert was desirable, then the blurring of advert with content would not be so annoying. Perhaps that is the promise of targeted advertising. The cost might be the loss of privacy as your consumer patterns would get shared like your email address does amongst the spammers.

What do you believe? Should advert and content be separate? Is convergence with targeted advertising OK? Should your consumer patterns be considered private knowledge or public domain?

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