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How Technology Transforms the Advertising Profession

The four original articles in this issue focus on the transformations that technology produces in the advertising profession, as well as in consumer behavior.

The first, “Shifting to Digital: Difficulties, Challenges, and Opportunities—A Qualitative Interview Study of Practitioners' Experiences in the U.S.” by Meritxell Roca, weaves together statistics about the state of digital advertising with interviews of thirteen advertising professionals. In this fast-changing arena of advertising practice, professionals struggle to adapt to emergent technologies, such as mobile communications, while also carrying the legacy of earlier technologies, such as the continued dominance of television as the primary storytelling medium. The goal of producing a campaign that produces an integrated, synergistic, even “viral” effect across platforms is tricky to accomplish, especially given that the industry is still structured in a way that divides digital agencies from traditional ones.

A longstanding controversy in advertising research and practice has centered on the causal relationship between advertising and consumption. The common sense expectation—usually asserted by ad agencies—is that more advertising increases purchasing. However, budgeting advertising expenditures as a percentage of the previous year’s sales is the most common method for determining annual advertising spending—a practice that would suggest sales (that is, consumption) causes advertising. In the second article, “Can Consumption Predict Advertising Expenditures? The Advertising-Consumption Relation Before and After the Dot-Com Crisis in Germany,” Juliane A. Lischka, Stephanie Kienzler, and Ulrike Mellmann demonstrate both phenomena at work in a way that rings true to common sense. In Germany before the dot-com crash, advertising is shown to be stimulating consumption. In a healthy, growing economy, it makes sense for advertising to be adding an extra boost. However, after the dot-com crash, advertising trails consumption, as the industry watched the recovery before committing media funds.

The third article, Iben Bredahl Jessen’s “Reconsidering Display in Online Testimonial Advertising: The ‘Show Faces’ Feature in Facebook’s Social Plugins,” helps us interpret the functions and meanings of a technical innovation as an elaboration of previous technologies and messaging strategies. The “Show Faces” feature in Facebook’s Social Plugins operates, in many ways, like early print advertising the employed testimonials. However, when the photographs are not of people known to the viewer, the Show faces feature points to the implicit “piles” of people who use the product—much as earlier advertising would claim that “three out of four mothers choose” or “everybody is using” the advertising brand. Similarly, for the user, the Show Faces feature allows the display of taste, much as did the “necktie” strategy once advocated by James Webb Young and followed by others of the “image advertising” school. The feature is also nicely compared, in this article, to the common distinction between “private” and “public” photo use, since the line between private and public is so thoroughly blurred by this trend.

In contemporary culture, we tend to assume that new technologies are automatically taken up as they come, adopted quickly for both their usefulness and aesthetic benefits. However, many innovations do fail or run into unexpected difficulties with consumer acceptance. In the context of today’s rate of change, it is interesting to look back and see the difficulties once faced by color television technology. This technology experienced slow diffusion through the US population, largely because there had been a sudden and rapid investment in black-and-white technology only a few years earlier, but also because there was little color programming available. The efforts of NBC to bridge that gap are exemplified in the iconic symbol developed in the period as their logo. For this issue’s “Classic Campaign,” Matt Ritter tells the story of the NBC Peacock.

Emerging technologies have changed the game in advertising before, and developments in digital media are proving no different. A closer look at the history of advertising technologies and contemporary expert commentary may lift the tip of the veil of what the future holds in store.

Linda M. Scott


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