Sale of the Century

Sale of the Century

by / January 2, 2006
For many Americans born in the last 30 years, traditional advertisements -- unless exceedingly clever or amusing -- are almost as off-putting as they are persuasive. Regular ol' commercials just don't cut it anymore. Chalk that up to a decreased attention span, broadband Internet, video games, cell phones and a million other things that occupy our time.

But of all ads that bombard us on a daily basis, few cause as much loathing as political advertisements.

Here in California, we just suffered through months of supposedly real people "discussing" issues in 30-second diatribes. Whatever side of the issue the advertisement extolled, the folks in the commercials spoke to the camera in a way no person in the history of mankind has ever actually spoken to another human being.

It really was almost too much to bear. It makes one wonder what would happen if a think tank studied the correlation between the awfulness of political commercials and low voter turnout.

Most campaign ads, from local to presidential, fall short in substance and creativity. The sole purpose of most political commercials is to quickly deliver a message to a mass audience that, even while watching the commercial, counts the seconds until it's over.

Campaigns know they don't have much time to persuade potential voters, so they want ads with a message that hits viewers over the head like a sack of rocks. Meanwhile accuracy, facts and truth spend most of their time securely belted in the back seat.

Advertisers in the private sector have long understood the difficulty of effectively persuading a large audience at once. Private-sector ad campaigns, however, enjoy the luxury of much more lead time to develop an effective and persuasive sales pitch. But even the modern trend of hilarious and/or visually stunning ads loaded with computer-generated graphics fail to keep customers transfixed.

That's where microtargeting comes in. Advertisers realize the future of their business lies in custom advertisements tailored to small, specific groups, or even to individual consumers.

Do you subscribe to Clown and Jester Monthly? If so, advertisers selling floppy shoes, rainbow wigs and bicycle horns are lining up text messages, direct mailers and e-mail advertisements designed just for you.

The technology now exists to create individually specific advertisements that can be economically delivered to an audience, even if that audience is just one person.

Smart political campaigns ought to be knocking each other over to get in on microtargeting. A generation of kids who grew up with mobile technology and Wi-Fi everywhere will soon decide who gets elected and who gets the boot.

Just as traditional infrastructure is no longer an acceptable way to power government operations, traditional political advertisements look skyward to see a giant asteroid hurtling toward them, carrying with it their fiery extinction.

After all, if my cell phone starts telling me what car to buy and what movie to watch, it may as well tell me how to vote, too.
Chad Vander Veen

Chad Vander Veen is the former editor of FutureStructure.


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