Douglas Rushkoff: The advertising businesses really need

What's ahead for advertisers? The end of the industry as you know it. And this, my friends, is a very good thing.

By Douglas Rushkoff, teacher, novelist, filmmaker and MOST RECENTLY author of Get Back in the Box: How Being Great at What You Do is Great for Business, New York

p>What’s ahead for advertisers? The end of the industry as you know it. And this, my friends, is a very good thing.

Lacking any real connection to their core enterprises, the CEOs at most corporations hire advertising agencies to invent mythologies to distinguish them from the competition. Are Keebler cookies made by elves? Of course not. But this is what distinguished brands in an era when the only role for media was to broadcast mythologies to a passive consumer audience.

The big change that most advertisers still haven’t reckoned with is that interactive media alters that audience’s relationship to this myth-making. Their posture is no longer that of a passive listener, but an active teller. If myths are going to be told, they will be assembled by groups of people responding to the information they’ve observed through their long-distance monitors and messaging systems.

Thanks to the Internet, companies are being exposed as what they really are. The people inside the best-guarded and most branded companies now talk directly to customers. The information they share cannot be controlled. What’s the best strategy in such an environment?

The only choice is to open up. Smash the myths, and expose what’s really going on in the company. People are no longer choosing cookies based on their mythical creation story, but on the real one. What’s in these cookies? Where were they made, under what conditions? How much were the workers paid, how much pollution was created, and how long have they been sitting on this shelf? How were the ingredients sourced?

This doesn’t mean advertising is over. There’s a bigger need than ever for communicators to teach companies how to communicate the real stories – not the myths – about how their products have come to be. And for companies that have completely disconnected from their core competencies, it will be the job of communications experts to break the news to them: if they want to be successful at what they do, they’re going to have to actually do the thing they want to tell the world they are doing.

It’s that hard, and that easy.

Douglas’s pick: PR

Honestly, I don’t think anyone out there is bringing radical change. I think they’re all applying radically absurd tactics to maintain the status quo. The smartest people out there are the ones jumping ship from the ad department and joining the PR department. These are the only people in the industry who can read the writing on the wall.

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