Here’s a “thought experiment” for you:
Suppose that a law is passed banning all advertising.
Hypothetically: Suppose that businesses are now only allowed to deliver advertising content if someone explicitly requests to see it. In it’s place, neutral parties are setting up “review aggregation sites” on the Internet. Kinda like those car magazines that are full of test drives — or “WHICH” magazine that’s been doing this kind of thing in print for decades.
The price of goods has fallen significantly now that the cost of advertising the products you buy has gone away. According to http://msl1.mit.edu/classes/esd123/vyas.pdf, around 23% of the cost of a car is in advertising and dealer incentives.
Without the crutch of advertising revenue, you do have to pay to watch TV or to visit most sites on the Internet — but the savings in the price of goods has more than offset that because we’ve eliminated the cost of making and delivering the adverts. You save money overall because you’re not paying for the advertising agencies, the billboards, the mail shots and so forth.
Now that the media content makers don’t have to appeal to advertisers anymore, they have to make things that people want to watch rather than vehicles for product placement or shows which are attractive to advertisers. Childrens TV is no longer dominated by shows that are thinly veiled ways to sell them toys.
Because American TV viewers no longer have to consume 16 minutes of advertising per hour during the five hours of TV they typically watch per day — they have more than an hour of extra time each day. Some spend it on watching more TV — but they get more out of the experience. Others use the hour they won to do other things — increasing your free time by an entire hour is akin to increasing your lifespan by many years.
Makers of TV shows now have to create 20% more content — so there is a boom in the content production industry that neatly cancels out the loss of jobs amongst those who previously filmed advertisements.
Now that viewers see clearly what they are paying for their media content, they tend to be pickier about what they watch. This reduces the amount of time they spend with the TV on ‘in background’ and increases the time when they are focussed on specific content that they enjoy. They tend to look at other activities that are cheaper than vegging out in front of the TV and they are less inclined to watch shows ‘because there is nothing else on right now’ because they see the dollar value in not doing so.
Because there is no longer an advantage to try to prevent people from fast-forwarding over the adverts, there is no reason to prevent people from watching content at their own pace. Now everyone can watch the latest series of their favorite show in one massive binge session — or spin it out over a longer period.
Content providers no longer have to serve up shows with content arranged so that the viewer’s attention span can be broken every five minutes. Documentaries on the History Channel no longer spend one minute out of every five reviewing what happened just prior to the three minute interruption that was just forced upon them. Sports don’t have to have their rules rewritten to allow for 16 minutes of standing around in every hour of play and games like soccer that demand long unbroken spans of play become more viable on commercial channels.
Without the need to sync everything up to the same timeslot, content can be of any reasonable length — if a show can tell a story completely in 35 minutes, there is no need to add five minutes of padding to fit the time slot — and no need to mercilessly edit down to 40 minutes if the story needed 45.
Life is richer…better.
Products that used to be sold only through clever advertising now have to compete on merit in order to get good rankings in the review sites. It’s useless to claim that your detergent gets clothes whiter than the competition when the independent review sites clearly show that it does not. However, for most goods like that, nobody very much cares whether clothes actually do wash 1% whiter than the competition — so competing by price or other real benefits is the only way for those businesses to grow.
Now, if you need a new car, you can see beautifully laid out reviews that detail all of the standard performance metrics and have beautiful photographs of the vehicles. Admittedly, you don’t see the car cruising through idyllic landscapes or being driven by a stereotypical soccer mom with a hoard of kids in back — but you don’t get told that your car has “The longest range in class” (meaning that although it has much worse MPG than any of it’s competitors, it does have an unreasonably large gas tank)…and what is this mysterious “class” anyway? Perhaps finally we’ll be able to answer that question!
Review sites will need to compete on reputation — which means that their reviews will need to be truthful and effective — and they’ll need to demonstrate that they are truly independent of the manufacturers of goods. If they aren’t, then trust is lost and people will look elsewhere.
This change eliminates whole classes of product that couldn’t possibly be sold without advertising. “Collectable replica gold coins” with 2 cents worth of gold washed over a base-metal form are simply never purchased anymore — the seller can no longer tell you that they can only hold this $19.99 price so long as the cost of gold doesn’t immediately skyrocket — or kinda-sorta imply that this is a real, rare solid gold coin! Nobody would ever choose to go out and buy such junk — they only waste money on them because a clever and deceptive sales pitch convinces them to do so.
Because people don’t spend their money on junk, they have more to spend on the things that clearly benefit them. There is no reason to assume they won’t spend their money on something else, so this general increase in the quality of living creates new markets to fill in the gaps left by the loss of jobs in the advertising company sector and in manufacturers of things that people really don’t need.
The world is clearly a better place.
So…can we get there from here? What does it take?