Al Gore: Advertising Visionary or Greenhouse Gasbag?

Ex-Vice President Al Gore delivered the keynote address at Digitas’ Digital Content Newfront this past Wednesday in a speech Adweek characterized as ‘putting agency creatives on notice.’  Speaking as one of the co-founders of Current Media, Mr. Gore used the theme of sustainability to outline how he sees the media landscape changing radically and a new form of advertising emerging, powered by user generated content.

As An Ad Pundit, He Makes A Strong Ex-Politician

As An Ad Pundit, He Makes A Fine Ex-Legislator

The crux of his thinking boils down to this quote: “In the 20th century, the advertising model was based on the same principles that the Industrial Revolution was based on: scale.  It was big, it was blunt, very expensive, and very intrusive, and audiences have now begun to resist that old advertising model even as the environment in which it is presented changes a great deal. The new model is very different because the media landscape is completely different.”  Few advertising professionals would bother arguing that thinking.  The arguments begin with Mr. Gore’s assumptions that ‘a new model’ even exists.

Advertising’s ‘new models’–and there are plenty of them–are all in beta.  And will probably remain there for the rest of my career.  The rate of technological change is just waaaay too fast for anyone to declare they’ve solved it and put their pencils–or cell phones–down.

Mr. Gore cites Current Media’s reliance on “VCAMs” (Viewer-Created Ad Messages) that users generate for brands that advertise on the network.  Everything is spec, the advertiser compensates the ad creators directly, and the payment increases dramatically if they choose to use the ad somewhere else.  This is a decidedly cost-effective solution; video crowdsourcing if you will.  Those inclined to think positively of this notion will compare it to the Threadless model, which it clearly resembles.

But as a ‘new ad model’ it fails on the very ‘sustainability’ issue Mr. Gore thumps so relentlessly.  Is such a model sustainable for a less sexy packaged good?  Is it sustainable when the novelty wears off and users catch on to the strong economic bias for Current’s self-interest over their own?  And how can this model’s basic assumption that “strategy is meaningless, prevalence is everything” make sense with video, when the assumption of some sort of ubiquity advantage has been proven so blatantly wrong for internet banner advertising?

He did make valid points and Mr. Gore’s adoption of a new model is laudable.  The fact is that his ‘new model’ will be far from the last one he–or any of us–adopts.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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