Willful blindness in media and advertising

By 25 April 2013Posts

Ignoring realities

By Louis Eksteen

In her 2011 book Wilful Blindness, blogger, businesswoman and TED regular Margaret Heffernan argues convincingly that people often ignore the obvious for deep psychological reasons she calls willful blindness. People “deny truths that are too painful, too frightening to confront”. This ostrich-like head-in-the-sand behaviour can have psychological benefits, such as helping us cope, but in business it often leads to disaster.

Ignoring fundamental changes in one’s industry can be so seductive that you can become totally unaware of what’s really happening. I believe one of the reasons for a good holiday, or even a sabbatical, is too gain some perspective on things that may become “unseen” in the everyday hustle and bustle of working life. It can help to avoid willful blindness.

The worlds of media and advertising have been experiencing a sea change over the last few years. This will continue going forward, as fragmentation of options and increased technological capability force rapid disruption. A lot of attention is paid to how digital platforms are forcing traditional media companies to adapt business models, but advertising is clearly not exempt.

In digital, traditional advertising formats are even changing into “advertising units“, often indistinguishable from editorial content. This would never have happened in an old world where “state” and “church” never met. (Facebook’s promotional units, such as sponsored stories, can in fact be seen as friend endorsements in the way it’s positioned.)

In addition, the seriousness with which banner ads are still taken boggles the mind. Banner ads are, in many instances, purely a con of epic proportions.

A common thread between the disruptions experienced by media and advertising, is that advertisers and consumers are now creating their own media and content platforms, while shutting out advertising. Who needs an intermediary (a medium in the true sense of the word), to deliver advertising messages, when you can engage directly with the advertiser on its own platforms?

To my mind, two realities of media and advertising cannot be ignored:

  • When consumers and advertisers can talk directly to each other, they will
  • Everyone’s a media owner

Over time, these realities will play out to render traditional media and advertising less influential than before. Useful services and real utility added value will become the norm, as it is already for the world’s new media and advertising behemoths, such as Google and LinkedIn.

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