Think about YouTube. In 2005, it did not exist. Now it hosts millions of video clips of every description, many created out of whole pixels by ordinary civilians. It feeds 100 million clips a day, most to MySpace pages and other social networks, and has supplanted MTV as the prime media destination for the Short Attention Span Generation. Google bought it for $1.65 billion. and Viacom is suing it for $1 billion – and both for the same reason: it has utterly disrupted the status quo of audience behavior, content distribution and Hollywood's hitherto impregnable monopoly on making stuff people get to watch.
But here's a fun fact. When those little video clips run, you don't have to watch an ad first. Or afterward. Because even though Google hasn't figured out a way to monetize its vast investment, it has long since decided that commercials are out of the question. Because those 100s of millions of downloaders wouldn't put up with it. Because they are unwelcome.
Bear in mind, as decades of data prove, consumers have never much cared for advertising. They accepted it only because, apart from being their part of the deal for cheap or free content, it was also basically unavoidable. Now, however, an entire generation has grown up getting free content online without much advertising interruption, and they consider it their birthright to do so. Moreover, they now have the technology – such as TiVo, spam blockers, etc. – for avoiding advertising, which is exactly what they do.
For that reason, and because of the collapse of the mass-media yin bodes poorly for mass-marketing's yang, advertising does not have a very bright future. This most likely spells a protracted nightmare for the ad-agency business, which at the moment expresses equal parts panic and Sorrellian denial. But if you happen to be in the business of flogging goods – or policies or laws -- fear not. All is not lost. Salvation is within your grasp. Just listen.
Can you hear it? In the distance? It's a crowd forming -- a crowd of what you used to call the "audience." They're still an audience, but they aren't necessarily listening to you. They're listening to each other talk about you. And they're using your products, your brand names, your iconography, your slogans, your trademarks, your designs, your goodwill, all of it as if it belonged to them -- which, in a way, it all does, because, after all, haven't you spent decades, and trillions, to convince them of just that? Congratulations. It worked. The Great Consumer Society believes deeply that it has a proprietary stake in you. And like stakeholders everywhere, they are letting their voices be heard. "I think it's going to be more and more of an open conversation -- as opposed to dictation," says internet guru Battelle, a founder of Wired and The Industry Standard. "Marketers are increasingly going to have to adopt the principles of the environment in which they find themselves."
Why? Because, as I've been explaining, the information society is reversing flow. We are increasingly inhabiting an open-source world.