Business Columns & Blogs

It’s time for annual Readers Rate the Ads

Each year, when we come to you for your comments in Readers Rate the Ads (yes, it’s that time – look for your cue to act later in this column), we ask you to consider the specifics of advertisements that you see every day.

But as we launch the 11th edition of Readers Rate the Ads, we consider this broader question: What if the whole idea of advertising changes to the point you won’t see or hear ads, at least as you’re accustomed to seeing or hearing them?

For those of us in the “traditional,” advertising-supported media, this is hardly an esoteric concept. We’ve been living with the trend for at least a decade. Even if we weren’t in the middle of a nasty recession – which we are, and which has clobbered advertising revenue – the media industry would still be in serious trouble, thanks to the draining of customers who moved their spending on classified and display advertising to Craigslist and other Web-based outlets.

Advertising was the magic elixir that would make everything possible, and free, on the Internet. The one-sentence business plan for virtually every webventure, no matter how far-fetched, was, “We’ll support it with advertising.” That model failed many now-departed companies in the first dot-com bust. Some companies may be headed for the same fate when the second arrives.

For everyone thirsting for advertising dollars, traditional and Web-based media alike, the hope is that the recession’s end will bring back revenue, and the inevitable winnowing out of advertising venues will enlarge the shares for the survivors.

So here’s a disquieting thought: What if the money isn’t coming back?

Advertisers have long been unhappy with all types of media when it comes to the efficiency and reach of available channels in getting messages to potential customers. The Internet has heightened the suspicion that there has to be a better way, except that no one knows what it is or how to tell whether it’s working.

But it’s dawning on companies that they can do a lot of the work themselves. They’ve always carried a certain amount of the advertising burden. But through channels they control directly – Web pages, company blogs, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, You Tube videos, mobile apps – companies are studying whether they can cut out the intermediary and communicate directly with the public.

Advertisers are playing with these models because they’re relatively inexpensive, a major consideration in an era of tight budgets. Some say ultimately they’re still not reaching the audiences they want.

But if companies decide this new model (and technologies still to come) is a more effective of telling the public about the goods and services they’re offering for purchase, and more adopt it as the standard means of operation ...

It won’t mean the disappearance of traditional advertising – newspaper and magazine ads, radio and TV spots, billboards, direct-mail pieces and the rest. It will, however, mean advertising revenue will drop, and everyone is going to be scrambling (yet again) to figure out a new revenue model to support themselves.

But that day is not here yet, so in the meantime we’ve got advertising to evaluate. Yep, here’s the audience participation part. Time for you to submit your nominations for, and comments about, the best and worst of ads you’ve seen in the last year, the ads that caught your eyes and ears, for good or bad. Send your submissions to the email address below, and we’ll report back to you in a future column what your fellow readers have to say.

And if you’ve got a thought or two about how all types of media might keep the lights on, we’ll certainly read those with interest as well.

Bill Virgin is editor and publisher of Washington Manufacturing Alert and Pacific Northwest Rail News. He can be reached at