Arts

Advertising Run Amok

A new book, 'Frenemies,' explores how the advertising world is adapting to a fast-moving market
A new book examines the existential crisis of the ad game. A new book examines the existential crisis of the ad game.

Other than a brief fascination with Mad Men in the Obama years, Americans have never shown much of an interest in the internal dramas of the advertising industry. It has always been the Rodney Dangerfield of the mass media, always looking for respect and not finding it.

But in his new book, journalist Ken Auletta reminds us of the one inescapable truth behind advertising that commands respect. However much you may be annoyed by ads and commercial encroachment in public space, advertising pays the bills for all that great content you and I enjoy every day.

From his perch at The New Yorker, Auletta has become one of the country's most prominent observers of the ad game. On Thursday, June 14, he comes to Kepler's in Menlo Park to discuss Frenemies: The Epic Destruction of the Advertising Industry (And Everything Else) (Penguin).

The digital disruption of the music and newspaper industries have gotten much more attention, but, Auletta argues, the disruption in advertising is every bit as profound. The business model for advertising and media was remarkably stable for more than a century, even with new models in radio and television. But technology has given us the phenomenon of the "ad blocker," and with that, the long established bargain between advertiser and consumer was broken.

A 2016 industry report found that about 1 in 5 people use some kind of ad blocker on their laptops or devices. "Technology has allowed them to do that," said Auletta. "So what do advertisers do? They say to themselves, we have to trick people into thinking they are not (looking at) ads, what's called 'native advertising.'"

What's more, he said, more than half of Americans say they skip the ads in programs recorded on their DVRs, and ad-free streaming services—Netflix, Amazon, HBO—are more and more becoming the dominant mode of entertainment media.

Frenemies explores exactly how the advertising world is adapting to a fast-moving market turned upside down by technological advances. It examines the industry's big players—the agency and holding company WPP, the middleman company MediaLink and Facebook—and how they are establishing new rules of engagement with the consumer.

Ultimately, says Auletta, subscription-based services will not be able to deliver the diverse and free media that we've all come to expect—"It's a false god," he says—and that we'll all have to reckon with what advertising has given us over the years.

"Advertising is our ATM machine. It subsidizes media. And if advertising is being disrupted, what does that do to media? This book is not just about advertising. It's about the whole media ecosystem."

Ken Auletta
Thursday, June 14, 7:30 p.m.
Kepler's Books, Menlo Park
keplers.org


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