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The Future of Advertising: Messages on Your Toaster?

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What can media do?

I was driving on the highway and spotted a billboard. It was your average, run-of-the-mill type of billboard. It could have been for a local restaurant, something from the tourism council, a car dealership, or even for a bottle of fine hooch. I can't remember. We see thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of messages on any given day. Our immunity is impressive. Some want to quantify all of these message as visual pollution. There are ongoing debates, along with areas of the world that are doing their very best to either cease the placement of new billboards or completely eradicate them from the landscape, to end the constant messaging.

There is no escape.

The sad truth is that marketers have -- for decades on end -- done ourselves in. No area is safe. They have advertising in the urinals and there is advertising in the security bin where you place your shoes as you make your way through airport security. Even the media channels that you love: Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and here, at The Huffington Post, there are many fine marketers behind the scenes doing everything they can to figure out how to make you, the product.

Yes, you: the product.

Tom Webster is a senior executive at Edison Research, and recently he had one of the more salient thoughts about media, marketing and communications. It was a simple line, and it goes like this: "if you do not pay for a service, you are the product they sell." We find ourselves in a world where we reject the notion of advertising on Twitter or chide Facebook for attempting to monetize their experience, and yet we -- the loyal consumers -- pay nothing for the product.

It's a paradox of epic proportions for media companies. If they charge for the service, odds are that less people will play along. This makes the advertising revenue drop, because brands and media companies are looking for as many human beings to target a message in front. But, if users -- who are getting a free service -- become inundated with advertising that isn't relevant or worthwhile, they either leave (which means "bye- bye" ads!) or stay, but do their very best to hate the brands that are disrupting their experience (which means the ads are not as effective).

For years I've recommended a more balanced and integrated approach that would blend traditional advertising with non-advertising driven marketing initiatives, coupled with the brand's new ability to tell a better story in hopes of making that message connect. What does that translate into? Real interactions between real human beings.

Advertising is not dead.

Digital advertising is still in its infancy. Imagine that highway... that billboard. Imagine an experience where whatever is shown on it is bought and sold in a very different way. Right now, this is how it's done: the out-of-home placement is booked. The advertising and media agency ensure that the creative (and production of it) is both finalized, delivered and installed.

Then, those agencies do their best to figure out the data and analytics behind the worth of that entire experience (which, to date, is primarily done by measuring the volume of traffic and correlating that to where the drivers are going based on the surrounding suburbs and businesses and then prophesying on a demographic).

We've seen some minor adjustments to this with the introduction of digital signage. It is much easier to swap creative in and out, but the rest of the process is primarily the same. All marketers are excited about real-time bidding (the ability to purchase media, in an auction-like environment, that is both fully digitized and in real-time). Think about it this way: you want to run an ad, you plug in your parameters and -- in real-time -- you can bid on and place creative in as short of a timeline as it will take you to make and upload the file. This type of engagement will, without question, come to all media channels once they are both digital and interconnected. The new network of these ads is going to make the current process seem archaic.

The Internet of things for media.

Everything is getting connected to the Internet. Not just these billboards, not just your smartphones, not just the signage at retail. Everything. From your toaster and home thermometer to your fridge and your car. As these appliances do "come online," can you even begin to imagine the media opportunities that arise from such a wealth of human information? When these connected devices understand everything from what's in your freezer to your driving trends (and are able to connect the dots), those boring billboards could (finally) come alive.

The AdWords of life. 

People don't mind Google AdWords because the message is contextual (based on the search) and it doesn't interrupt the user experience (it is above and to the side of the content you are trying to engage with, and it looks and feels the same as your search results). Brands like it for other reasons (and yes, there are some that feel that AdWords is no longer what it used to be).

Brands like it because it is pay-per-click (if no one clicks, the advertiser doesn't pay) and it's performance-driven (if not enough people ever click on the ad, Google bumps you off). This constant, real-time refinement of messaging has not only created an entire new industry within the marketing industry, it has also shed a light on what other media channels can do. If they are brave enough. If they invest in technology, If they truly understand and respect their consumer (and their privacy). If they take the time to innovate on the creative and how the story can unfold across multiple media channels. If only...

There's a lot of "if" in there.

What will be the breaking news coming out of CES (Consumer Electronics Show) this week from Las Vegas? The major hype that the CNN's of the world will focus on, may be self-driving cars or a thinner TV for your den, but the real story will be how many devices will suddenly become connected. Not just to the consumer, but to one another. And that, my dear media hackers, is going to create a whole new industry that is going to make things more exciting than they have ever been for marketers. We're at a point in time where social media, content marketing and more will blur away into the world of context through connected devices and individuals. Creepy? Yes. Opportunity to get it right? Absolutely.

So, how do you think the marketing industry is going to respond?

Mitch Joel is president of Twist Image -- an award-winning digital marketing agency. HIs first book, Six Pixels of Separation, named after his highly-successful blog and podcast of the same name is a business and marketing bestseller. His next book, CTRL ALT Delete, will be published on May 21st, 2013.