Have been reading Andrew Keen’s Cult of the Amateur: How today’s internet is killing our culture and assaulting our Economy. In it he rails against ‘the commercial break dressed up as democratised media that is youtube’. In this neat video he goes on to say that he hates youtube because it provides a platform for adverts, but doesn’t let you know when you’re watching them.
He conveniently ignores the fact that making the distinction between what is and isn’t an advert isn’t difficult because youtube fails to make it clear. It’s difficult because the dividing line between what is and isn’t an advert isn’t clear. Before youtube, advertising dominated 3 minute media – the medium almost by default categorised the communication as an advert. Now that anyone can use that 3 minute window to say anything, it has become much harder to draw a clear line between a 3 minute advert and whatever-a-3-minute-video-is-if-it’s-not-an-advert. This isn’t helped by the fact that there is just something inherently ‘advertish’ about the three minute slot. e.g. If you try and ‘nub’ a book that might take 5 hours to read into a 3 minute video it may well start to look and feel alot like propaganda.
Following up recent discussions about the difference between a nub and an advert I turned to the dictionary for help. It provides three definitions for ‘advertisment’. They are:
1. to announce publicly (an article for sale, a vacancy, a forthcoming event)
2. to encourage sales of by emphasizing desirable qualities
3. to draw attention to
Nubs probably fit 1 and 3, but they just don’t fit 2. I think the objective of a nub is the same as a book like, say, Tipping Point. It aims to get you to think, but it doesn’t care how you use that thought. In contrast an advert is only successful if it changes real human behaviour – it may do this by changing how you think, but unless it ultimately encourages sales, it fails.
But in anycase, I’m not sure how worried Andrew Keen should be about the pernicious influence of advertising on the web. From where I sit, it doesn’t exactly seem to have a bright future.
The only way that TV advertising works on the web (i.e. when it is deprived of it’s sofa-bound captive audience) is by either exploiting the lawlessness of the web to (a) be more shocking than is permitted on TV, or (b) to dupe people into watching. These approaches don’t seem to be sustainable. How much cruder can you get? Does duping consumers into watching ads really make them feel more positive towards the brand?
Infact the very existence of these approaches seems to almost be an admission that when given the choice people don’t want to watch adverts. Brands will look for other ways to get sales and the three minute video will be left for something else.
And there in lies the bright future for nubland: people want to learn, they don’t want to be pitched to. So if you’re a person, a company, or an academic – help people to ask themselves the right questions – don’t tell them what the answer is. Rather than thinking of youtube as a giant commercial break, I’d sooner think of it as a visualisation of the economy of ideas. Which is probably the right thought to dump before dropping nubland’s crazy in love.. 9,000,000 views and counting, der de de der de der der