14 Monopolized Fragments: Antennae.
The media industry used to have a captive audience. After television was introduced, people sat in front of it and received whatever was coming out of it.
Traditionally, the media industry broke down their audiences by the channel they watched and whatever happened to be on at the time. Adult shows were on later at night, children’s shows in the morning, and news broadcasts at specific times. Advertisers used ratings to determine how many people watched each show. They would run different ads depending on the channel and the time their advertisement was on. This why “prime time” exists. Between 8pm and 11pm is when most people in the country were tuned in.
The time was prime (for indoctrinating people with corporate propaganda, ahem…) for advertisement.
At it’s peak, the Ed Sullivan show attracted between 10 and 14 million viewers. What ad do you show to 14 million people? A generic one that uses information about the statistically average (white) viewer.
Knowing what we know now about audiences, this is a gift and a curse. On one hand, if you can afford it, you have a monopoly on your audience. On the other hand, you never really know how many people your message is truly connecting with. Because of this, many companies used advertisement strategies that combined wholesomeness, trust, and desirability with incredibly large budgets intended to dominate airwaves, paper media, and all other forms. Rather than risk offending a large amount of people at once, many firms decided to play it safe, be attractive, and be everywhere.
It’s hard to think about another brand if you don’t know it exists.
Here’s an example of what mid 20th-century advertising means to me:
We can be offensive now: cable.
Cable and satellite TV ended up being really crucial inventions for the advertising industry. If the Ed Sullivan show had a viewership of about 10% of all Americans, cable was going to split that up. There are about 24 late night shows on right now and if you click that link, you’ll see that a majority of defunct late night shows are either, older versions of what is currently on, or shows that started in the 80s or later (10 years after the Ed Sullivan show went under.)
Some people resisted. If you have an advertising machine that works, changes in the system mean there have to be changes to your machine. More shows mean more fragmented audiences. With cable, you can’t make 3 ads and run them for a month. Instead, you have to make 20+ ads for different audiences.
Now, you can specifically target people who watch sports all day:
Audience Fragmentation and The Internet: what was once free is now just like everything else
The internet wasn’t taken seriously as an advertising medium for a very long time. It was ugly, incredibly fragmented, and primitive. During that period, there was a lot of optimism about the internet being the final, free frontier. As the internet grew from its days in ARPANET, AOL became the average consumer’s default front page and some companies started taking the internet more seriously.
As the internet grew, its tracking tools became incredibly sophisticated. Today, you can know exactly who is visiting your site when, down to the person. You can also view general trends such as viewership by country, time of day, etc. You can also see where people came from to get to your site and potentially where they went afterwards. You can see exactly how long people spend looking at specific pieces of content, where they start and stop, and where they are exactly within your site. Due to information like this, audience fragmentation has transformed into the most powerful tool advertising has to date.
The industry term for this is audience segmentation, a word that signifies control instead of chaos.
Despite the large amount of choice the internet provides, humanity has still defaulted to a small amount of starting points from which they view content (notably Google and Facebook.) Advertising is, by default, embedded into these services. Because of that, consumers expect to see ads. There are also tools within those services built specifically for advertisers. You don’t have to call anyone to place an ad, you can just click a few buttons and spend away. Not only is advertising more powerful than ever, it is instantaneous, and easier than ever.
Even though person A and person B may watch completely different kinds of content, they are finding it via Google, a handful of social media platforms (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter Snapchat,) or a handful of video platforms (YouTube, Netflix, HULU, etc.) That information is all being relayed back to marketers from those central platforms, which can then be used to craft more effective marketing campaigns.
Today: is it a wiretap if you opted in?
In the 1940s, it would have been really hard to know what kind of ad to run across 400+ channels. Now, any wannabe Napoleon with $100 can get exact demographic information on anything they put on the internet.
The NSA wants to be big brother, but Facebook, Google, and Amazon are outstripping them. Instead of forcefully gathering data, users of those services opt-in to having their data collected. Advertisers on each platform pay to run advertisements and collect data. On a large scale Google, Amazon, and Facebook have created an ecosystem where users agree to be watched, and advertisers pay to watch them, both parties donating their data to the platform they are on.
No one knows what’s real or what’s fake anymore, which has been advertising’s goal from the outset.
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