Stop selling scarcity

You have to love – or at least pay attention to – Digg’s new advertising system enabling users to vote on ads: The more that users digg an ad, the less the advertiser pays. That’s a reversal of advertising but it’s the way advertising probably needs to go: The better your relationship (which springs from a better product and service), the more your customers will market it for you, the less you’ll have to pay to market it. That is the ideal. Advertising is failure.

Or look at it another way: We in media – including us online with our banners and buttons – are still selling scarcity – and pricing it that way – when there is no scarcity. Google sold performance instead and that motivated it to create ever more ads across more of the internet – aka Adsense – to get ever more relevant ways to be ever more effective.

I’ve been wanting for sometime to have users vote on ads and tell a site which ads are worthwhile to them and which are not. This creates data that valuable for the advertiser (who likes me, who doesn’t?) and it enables media and marketing to become far more effective (Google allowing us to correct the targeting assumptions it makes about us reduces our irritation with irrelevant ads and improves Google’s effectiveness).

When I tweeted this earlier, Angus Batey worried that popularity can be a danger, and that the better-resourced companies that can create better (more entertaining, popular) ads will win. Except I’d say that may be the case with old advertising – commercials – but it’s hard to do that with text ads on Digg: Fool me once (“Free Sex Now!”) and I’ll vote you down the next time. The Digg system rests on a Cluetrainy need to deliver authentic value and relevance – like Google’s ads.

The future of advertising needs to be selling – that is, enabling – relevance instead of selling scarce space, time, or eyeballs. The future needs to be about adding value – relevance – rather than selling scarcity (extracting what the market will bear). I’m not sure whether Digg’s system is a step in that direction; Batey’s right that there could be unintended consequences. But it’s worth watching. I hope Digg shares data and experience in its fascinating experiment.