Even if “the purpose of advertising is not to sponsor media,” that is exactly what advertising did before adtech came along—and still does, on what’s left of major media.

“Now a word from our sponsors” made complete sense in the pre-digital commercial broadcast word, and still does in the digital one as well, in those rare cases when the advertiser buys time on a specific branded medium.

But adtech can’t do that, because adtech is about chasing eyeballs. This is also why adtech can’t produce a brand everybody knows.

The purpose of advertising is also not just “to sell a product.” Of course you can do that with some kinds of advertising. For example, I sold my car yesterday through an ad on Craigslist. But at least some percentage of the value of my sold car owed to brand advertising by the car’s maker.

If all adtech did was “track how many consumers, personally, did something,” we’d have no problem with it. But adtech also tracks people before they do anything. This is rude and wrong on its face, and a big reason why the better part of a billion people block ads online.

The only seismic shifts that matter for advertising are what people and advertisers do. We already know a growing percentage of people block ads online. And now we’re seeing advertisers pulling out. Expect much more to come from both places. But don’t expect better adtech. That game is over.

Written by

Author of The Intention Economy, co-author of The Cluetrain Manifesto, Fellow of CITS at UCSB, alumnus Fellow of the Berkman Klein Center at Harvard.

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