As technology enables new ways of delivering a story, consumer habits would also change and this would naturally affect the way advertising is dealt with as well.

Technology has disrupted the publishing industry in a big way. But something that tends to get overlooked is the disruption that it has caused the industry that makes publishing commercially viable: advertising. This was inevitable. As technology enables new ways of delivering a story, consumer habits would also change and this would naturally affect the way advertising is dealt with as well.

In the past when everything was analogue, it was much harder for consumers to avoid ads. When you read a newspaper or a magazine, you can’t help but notice the ads.

When you listen to the radio, commercials are interwoven into the shows; and the same is true for television. Even when you go to the cinemas, you can’t avoid the commercials unless you arrive just on time, which most people wouldn’t do because they didn’t want to risk missing the start of the movie. So movie theatre ads could not be avoided either.

Those were the good old days of advertising. Today, it’s different. Today, many people consume their content online. There are some advantages for advertisers when content is consumed online. The ads can be more targeted and they’re also more measurable. The problem is that they are such things as ad blockers.

Ad blockers don’t actually block all ads but they do inhibit the most intrusive ones, particularly the pop-up ads that are so annoying. But even if people aren’t able to block all forms of online ads, anecdotal evidence suggests that most people tend to ignore them.


Make no mistake, online ads are still very viable for a few big tech companies, notably Google and Facebook. Both make tens of billions of dollars in ad revenue through online ads. Both also offer advertisers targeted form of advertising.

In the case of Google, when consumers search for a particular item, they don’t just see the organic results, they also see the paid ads. These would be somewhat relevant to what you were searching for because the ads appear based on keyword. Presumably the advertiser would have put in keywords that are relevant to the keywords you used in your search query.

Facebook allows advertisers to specify in great detail what kind of demographics it wants to target in addition to specified keywords. Again, this would probably result in ads that are more relevant than the generic ads that appear on most websites because presumably, the advertiser would choose demographics and keywords that are relevant to whatever it is they’re selling.

What Google and Facebook have done is a step in the right direction but it’s not enough. The relevance of their ads may be there but the quality of their ads still varies considerably. If an ad doesn’t look engaging or compelling, people would not click on them.

For the ads to be effective, it’s not enough that they’re relevant, they must also be useful, interesting and ideally, entertaining. If consumers want to see such ads, they are not considered interruptive anymore. If brands can solve that problem, they wouldn’t have to worry about consumers blocking their ads or overlooking them.


One very important element for making the ads pin-point accurate in their relevancy is personalisation. Advertisers of the future will need to be able to personalise the ads, not just for a particular demographic but for specific individuals.

Imagine a media platform that knows exactly what its audience likes and is able to deliver relevant advertising that’s interesting to them. Let’s take me as an example. I’m really big into judo. Would I mind advertising that’s related to judo? Of course not. In fact, I’d welcome it, and if the ad was well done, I’d share it with friends. Or imagine if the system knows I’m in the market for a new car and it even knows what types of cars I would consider. I would love such ads.

As we all know, there’s almost no privacy online. Unless you take great pains to surf the web anonymously, using special software or virtual private networks, all your moves are trackable. Besides, we voluntarily input tonnes of personal information about ourselves through social media anyway. So there’s great potential for deep, aggressive data-mining.

Complex data mining would make it possible for advertisers to offer very personalised advertising targeted at your interests. If you’ve ever shopped at, you’ll know what I mean. Each time I log onto their website, I’m bombarded with stuff that’s relevant to me.

They know what I’ve bought and what I’ve looked at it. They know how long I looked at a particular item. They know if I actually put some item in a shopping cart but changed my mind. They’ve data-mined my online behaviour to death and that’s why they can deliver such relevant recommendations.


Now imagine such pin-point accuracy in advertising when you surf the web in general. You could easily imagine a future where there’s no mass advertising anymore. Instead, you’re sent highly personalised ads direct to your media device, most likely your phone. And if you want to be really imaginative, picture a situation where your wearable devices like your smart watch monitors and reports your pulse when you see a particular ad and informs the media outlet how much you liked the ad.

Aggressive data-mining based on your online behaviour will make it possible for advertisers to know you really well. New legislation will probably require that such data collection is done strictly on an opt-in basis but that probably won’t be a problem because if what’s being offered are relevant and interesting ads, I think most people would opt in.

It is of course incumbent upon the advertisers to come up with interesting and engaging ads. If they do, the advertising will not even be seen as “advertising” anymore but as content. This brings us to the topic of content marketing, which is already a hot trend in the US. Content marketing basically refers to the use of content in its various forms for the purposes of marketing. But the difference is that it’s not intrusive and it contains material that the consumer wants. Content marketing will be a big component of the future of advertising.

Advertising isn’t dead. It just needs to evolve to become more relevant and compelling to its intended audience.

Oon Yeoh is a consultant with experiences in print, online and mobile media. reach him at

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