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[Guest Post] The Doomsday of Mass Advertising

"Tastes change, fashions change, and the advertiser has to change with them." Thomas J. Barrat, aka. "the father of modern advertising".

The industry of advertising has not failed to realize the emergent customization of literally anything that surrounds us. Being one of the many social changes the digital world has brought, advertisers soon understood the benefits of tailoring their products to specific audiences. This goes in line with other customization trends that this decade of the twenty-first century has seen, such as 3D printing technologies allowing you to have a different -and brand new!- cereal bowl every day; or the striking objects and architectures that digital design has freed from the idea of 'the mass'.

Advertisers have slowly, but steadily, started to implement this new approach in a variety of ways, both virtual and analog. While predicting the future is always a slippery thing to do, one could start to see a tendency to favour all things bespoke, to the detriment of audiences understood as homogenous masses of identical individuals. This had started shyly with the television, where toys would be advertised in the middle of children’s programs, and alcoholic beverages after late-night movies. The exploitation of these customization techniques, however, has undergone a radical makeover with the arrival of the Internet and the subsequent acceptance of the digital realm. Customization of a company's advertising campaigns comes hand in hand with other public relation strategies, as a matter of fact, and is intimately related to the company's brand identity. When a PR agency embarks the task of developing developing a corporate brand identity, it will typically begin by asking just that: who are our customers? Clarifying what your audience’s needs are is a step in the right direction when it comes to bespoke advertising, based on the potential customers' specific tastes and likings, rather than blindly advertising to an obscure mass of unknown individuals.

You might have realized that the advertising in sites such as YouTube or your e-mail service provider varies according to your latest web searches or the messages you have exchanged with your contacts. Indeed, the algorithm sometimes gets things wrong, such as the day my German boyfriend sent bussi (kisses), and a bunch of adverts of Finnish bus companies (bussi) appeared in Suomi all over my web browser! If you are yet to realize about these changes, you might well have received a newspaper in the post, with your own name printed in the headline instead! University prospectuses these days are also customized to the prospective student's interests, and displaying their name on every other page. Could this be the doomsday of mass advertising?

Advertising is arguably as old as human society, and it started as a way to inform the public, ie. the audiences and potential clients, about one's own services. Never before, however, has advertising had the possibility of selecting its audiences as carefully as before. Flyers have been put up by blacksmiths and doctors alike, while stall owners at markets have sung and shouted about their products in all cities worldwide. Nowadays, more than a decade into the twenty-first century, it is more urgent than ever to utilize digital technologies in order to do something that these advertising methods did not: optimization. These methods were targeting all passers-by, without carefully selecting them in order to direct their message only to those who might have been interested in the services offered. In other words, optimized advertising means sending out one's message only to interested audiences, and thus avoiding unnecessary expenses.

Moving away from mass advertising means entering an era of optimal advertising. Thankfully, this is possible because the means are now available. All successful businesses are acutely aware of it, but not all strands of possibility have been explored. Television and cinema, not to mention newspapers, are only the grandparents to the new universes of interactive and multi-media advertising that gadgets such as tablets and smartphones have opened before us. Advertising brought to you in a silver tray.

A guest post from Fortune PR.

Photo Credit: Mackenzie King addressing an outdoor audience on his Western Tour, 1941. William Lyon Mackenzie King. Library and Archives Canada, C-068667

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