The Future of Advertising?

Some two decades ago, writes Michael Serazio for The Atlantic, in a sly yet silly vignette from Wayne’s World, Mike Myers and Rob Lowe exchange testy remarks about a sponsor’s gauche intrusion into Wayne’s cable access show. Reclining nearby in mullet-to-toe Reebok gear, Garth, Wayne’s companion and co-host, laments, “It’s like people only do things because they get paid. And that’s just really sad.”

This weekend, Morgan Spurlock, documentarian provocateur last seen eating his way to angina in 2004’s Super Size Me, gives that same joke full-length treatment in The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, a film financed by and about “advertainment”—the increasingly pervasive nexus of commercialization and entertainment.

Knowingly or not, Serazio writes, Spurlock’s wink-wink meta-narrative on promotional culture speaks to a much more serious, simmering crisis of faith in the media industry today. No longer able to depend on traditional institutions of advertising to get their message across, corporations need a vessel. No longer able to depend on the publishing and programming apparatus that long supported them, creators of pop culture need a patron.

And thanks to profound economic and technological transformations, audiences’ ability to filter out advertising from their lives—via TiVo, satellite radio, national Do Not Call registries, spam filters, and the like—may one day result in all content becoming branded content.

On one level, Serazio writes, we have no one but ourselves to blame. The more we steel against marketer entreaty in familiar venues—armed with our DVRs and pop-up blockers—and the more that we refuse to pay for editorial content, be it entertainment or journalistic, the more the media and advertising industries will need to wind up in bed together in order to survive.

And the ongoing development of such branded material could be a harbinger for how these businesses are funded and managed—redefining their roles in, rules for, and relationship to popular content.

But if advertising is, indeed, “geographically imperialistic,” and the growth of word-of-mouth marketing over the past decade is any indication—whereby brands try to seed buzz in our everyday conversations—we may well be facing the next creepy horizon of commercial colonization: “real life product placement.”

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