Most marketers, though, are dead set against relinquishing control. While it's true there are still legitimate impediments to the development of new platforms into viable ad media -- chief among them a lack of standards that makes it impossible to measure return on investment -- the inability to turn over control to the end-user may ultimately be the biggest blockade.
This isn't just about the Internet. Every new technology that hits the marketplace in some way empowers consumers, and that will inexorably change how marketers communicate with them.
This is happening on the Web right now, and in that space it's obvious marketers still have no idea what their role should be. The consumer is in command. In the morning, if I forget to switch on the "Today" show at just the right time, I miss the weather report. On the Internet, I can get the weather at any time, for any city. The same dynamic extends to business information, sports, news and entertainment (are those last two redundant?).
And also, of course, to marketing content. Instead of waiting for information to be pushed at me, I pull it down and customize it to my needs.
Although the interactive world is usually defined as the Internet, that isn't the only place this is happening. Ameritech now offers a service that screens and blocks direct marketing calls. I know several people considering a move to Chicago just to access this thing.
Frigidaire has developed a refrigerator with a bar-code scanner. When you pour out the last dollop of ketchup, scan the bottle and it's automatically added to a list of groceries delivered to your door. This will cement consumer loyalty to favored brands. But what does it mean for competing brands if your refrigerator is constantly re-stocked with the same items? At the least, it will transform promotional techniques and open fierce battles for virtual shelf space.
In music, new technologies allow consumers to turn computers into jukeboxes with customized playlists.
TV is next. Forget that the early forays into two-way TV were stillborn. Technology is better and cheaper, and Net-savvy consumers will no longer accept the relative stupidity of their TV sets.
A recent ad on the back page of The New York Times business section surely caused a few morning Mad Ave commuters to choke on their tall skim lattes. The ad was for Replay TV, a system that records TV shows onto a hard drive in real time. Walk away from the set and when you return pick up the show right where you left off.
In spelling out Replay TV's features, the ad notes, "Oh, yes . . . commercials. Hit QuickSkip and you jump forward 30 seconds instantly." Then, in boldface, the four scariest words in marketing at the end of this millennium: "It's up to you."
The solution may be a creative one. Ads need to hook viewers before they hit the QuickSkip button. More likely, advertisers need to define new ways to deliver messages. Media mogul Mike Bloomberg envisions an explosion in product placement. In a recent speech, he confidently predicted Tom Brokaw "will have a can of Coca-Cola on his desk in a few years."
I hope he's wrong, because further erosion of the line between programming and advertising is foolish. It corrupts the very consumer trust advertisers tap into when they place their messages in a particular environment.
A better option is for marketers to make it clear that ad dollars subsidize media consumption. Order a pay-per-view movie without ads and it's $5. With ads, $1.
There's not one answer. But, as new media empower more people, marketers must let consumers define the role of advertising in the information flow.