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Are you Smarter than a 7th Grader?

Posted by Kevin Wassong on April 5th, 2013 at 8:00 am

I recently spoke to my son’s seventh-grade middle school class. The occasion was called “Real Work, School Work” Day, where parents come in and speak to students about their real-world experience.

The idea of the day is to open students’ eyes to the potential of the workplace and help them make the connection between what they learn in school and its real world applicability. I’ve spoken at conferences in front of hundreds of people and been on CNBC and FOX Business multiple times, but the stress of those experiences pales in comparison to seventh-graders staring at you expecting your words of wisdom.

I was there to speak to the kids about the world of advertising and tell them about my role building LIN Mobile, a premium mobile advertising company.

While there, I learned some very interesting facts:

  • Of the 120 seventh graders I talked to, one had a Facebook account. Now, I get this. You are supposed to be 13 to have a Facebook account.
  • ZERO, yes ZERO kids had Twitter accounts or even cared about a Twitter. This surprised me.
  • Nearly 100% of the kids had Instagram accounts. They LIVE on Instagram.

It was at that point that I asked my next question. Holding my hand out to mark a height, I asked, “Where do you think Instagram’s’ revenues are if my hand is zero?”

The proceeding dialogue went like this:
Them: “Ten stories above your hand?”
Me:  “So you don’t mind that fee you pay for your Instagram account?”
Them (In unison): “We don’t pay for Instagram!”
Me: “So you don’t mind all the ads?”
Them: “There aren’t any ads!”

At that point, the same kid who had said ten stories above my hand said; “Um…Ten stories below your hand?” I responded, “Probably.”

I then asked, “How long do you think it will be before Instagram starts running ads?” They all responded, “Soon!”

At that point, I asked a simple question: “What is advertising?”

One girl immediately replied, “Propaganda!” Not as a question, but a statement.  It was a little cynical, but understandable. Another response was, “To learn about new products?” Good. Another was, “To sell me something?” Yes.

I explained that advertising was created to inform people about products and services, but it also allowed people to read, see, hear and interact with content and apps that are fun, informative and engaging for free. Without advertisers willingness to underwrite these efforts, professionally produced content would not exist.

By the end of my discussion, all the kids felt quite differently about the definition and role of advertising.

There seems to be a trend of bashing advertising. From a myriad of industry trade sites and magazines proclaiming the “death of the banner”, to the endless articles on “ad-free”, there is this feeling that display advertising, the banner or “brand advertising” are all inherently bad. What’s most disconcerting is that it sometimes feels like our industry is turning against itself.

There is no arguing that BAD display advertising is inherently bad.

Along that same point, I do agree with three principles of the argument against contemporary advertising

  1. Consumers hate being bombarded with irrelevant display ads.
  2. Advertisers hate spending their money on ads that are perceived as irrelevant.
  3. There are technologies that exist today to solve problems one and two.

There are only two (and a half) forms of media: Paid, like Netfix or HBO, and Ad-Supported, like network TV and Yahoo. The hybrids that make up the “half” are newspapers or streaming music services like Pandora and Spotify, as these are companies that have ads and subscriptions.

If you believe in professionally produced content (shows, movies, music, apps and articles), then you MUST be pro-advertising. This is an ecosystem that has been proven out over hundreds of years.

Native Advertising, Search Advertising, and Display Advertising are all…ADVERTISING! If you look at the reports on Twitter, Facebook or Pandora, you will find that advertising is their lifeblood.

As an industry we must all band together and start propagating a perception, no, I mean a reality, that advertising including the banner has intrinsic, positive benefits for consumers.

Advertising provides access to information, content and apps that we would not otherwise have. Being exposed to advertising is a fair value exchange for viewing or interacting with content.

Thank you, Advertisers, for what you do. And to the ad industry and media, don’t bite the hand that feeds. Shake that hand with a firm grip and say, “Thank You,” for helping our business create, innovate and thrive.

One Response to “Are you Smarter than a 7th Grader?”

  1. Rich Golden says:

    Well said! Kudos to the 7th Graders!

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