11 August 2007

Advertising and the open source movement: Coffee and Donuts/August 06/Shekhar Deshpande, JWT Planning, Bangalore

Advertising and the Open Source Movement

All of us have heard of the Open Source movement: from a layman’s point of view, open source software is one created by people whose primary desire is to share it with the world and get just about anybody to improve it: for free.This is a marked departure from how things used to work.Creating a product is no longer in the hands of a few.What’s more, there is no copyright: instead, there is copy left: an open product that can be changed, improved upon and created by just about anybody.

Perhaps a frightening thought for most software companies: how will they make a living if their consumers create software for themselves?

While Open Source and media may not be strictly comparable in slightly different ways, this movement is replicating itself in two other industries and has a direct impact on mass media advertising.These two industries are information and entertainment. You make your own news, entertainment and software. People who create are the people who consume.

The “open source” movement in entertainment and information seems to threaten the 30 second TV commercial. If people themselves become geeks, entertainers and journalists, where is the room for large media and entertainment companies?

And therefore where is the room for the 30 second commercial?


Already, channels are inviting viewers to take a camera (or indeed a mobile phone) with them and get their ‘news story’ published on their channel.Blogs could make life tough for news channels. In future, perhaps you don’t need to watch a news channel because somebody who was in Iraq would have put up his video on a blog. All you need to do is type ‘Iraq latest war’ and Google’s beautiful search engine technology is going to take you straight there since it prioritizes sites that have the most cross-links and references. You don’t need to watch CNN: the content is on the net. Why do you need to watch ads then?


People are finding other ways to entertain themselves. They read jokes and watch videos on email. They seriously engage in X BOX or Playstation. They spend hours on the mobile: playing, downloading tunes, sending MMS messages. They download music and create their own content. They watch movies on their server: downloaded for free of course. Traditionally, channels create this ‘cool’ entertainment. Today people are figuring out for themselves what "cool" is. They don’t need the channels to do that. Instead of somebody having to entertain them, they’re doing it themselves: and why would they watch advertising in return?

Two factors, both commonsensical, come to mind.These seem to offer some hope for mass marketing.

1.The most basic principle of economics will save us.

Soon enough, some blogs will become far more popular than others. The owners of these blogs will realize the potential of their expertise. They will also realize that they cannot support all that traffic for free. And they will realize that they are sitting on a huge pile of money. The most basic principle of economics will be at force again. Soon enough, these blogs of course, will be bought by larger corporations, but that’s besides the point. The more important point is that we will have to pay to access them.

Entertainment, too, might go the same way. Entertainment has this ability to bring people together over a movie, a song, an event or even a celebrity. And if this content is going to be heard or enjoyed by everyone, somebody will need to distribute it. Somebody will have to put it up on the internet, even if it’s never relayed on television. And this expertise will attract economic value. `

In order to subsidize their costs or generate economic value, the experts will attract advertising!

2. The upwardly Indian Spiral is still prevalent

The second point that gives us hope is the mythical Indian belief in the circle of life. While we all know that life goes back to where it started, Indian mythology tell us that life is more like a spiral that moves upwards rather than just a two dimensional circle that keeps going round and round. When society completes a full circle and arrives at the same point where it started, it has learnt from the past and has advanced one level.The circles of life are, in some sense, upwardly moving spirals, where every revolution is wiser and better than the first.

The open source movement in software is older than the one in entertainment and media. The companies that were threatened by open source programming (IBM, for example) are now actually leveraging and using open source products to build their expertise: ON TOP of the open source products. They are developing software that is based on an open source platform: but calls for their expertise to put it together. Of course, it isn’t free.

One may submit that the future will be no different. While there will be turbulent times, the role for mass media (and therefore advertising) is unlikely to go away. Nobody knows whether the 30 second TVC will be aired on television or on a computer or indeed, whether it will be 30 seconds long. But perhaps what we can say is that as long as the basic economic model exists and as long as people want to share and discuss the same information and entertainment, expertise will be valued, and will need to be subsidized.

And as long as there is a need to subsidize information and entertainment, the TV spot will be there to help.

Meanwhile, we each need to ask some serious questions on our brands.

Are there ways in which my brand can create news and get its users to participate in the creation?
Are there ways in which my users can entertain each other with my brand?
Is my brand on an upwardly moving spiral and how can I make it wiser and better?

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