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BIG IDEAS

The Banner Ad Isn't Obsolete. It's the Future

The banner ad might seem like an artifact of the early Internet era that will inevitably die out. But its functionality is the key to the future of business.
PHOTO CREDIT: NASA/FLICKR
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Imagine a world where every need is met right away. Your thermostat knows exactly where to set itself. Your car's sound system knows which song to play, when. Your grocer already knows your preference of paper or plastic.

A lot of this sort of stuff--think self-driving cars--is already in the works. It's little secret that personalization, customization, and automation will play massive roles in the future of business. A more central question is, how do we get there?

Entrepreneur John Battelle, an author, blogger, and one of the founding editors of Wired, thinks the basic infrastructure of the future of business and society was born in the early days of the web: the banner ad.

Writing on his blog, Battelle champions the banner advertisement--that relic of the early Internet that many consider obsolete--as an artifact in the "archaeology of the future."

The ads that populate the web, the kind that know to show sneakers to a runner or business books to executives, provide a model of what personalization outside the confines browsers and traditional computer systems might look like, Battelle says:

At present, the end result of this vastly complicated "Request Process Response" system is, more often than not, the proffering of a banner ad. But that’s just an artifact of a far more interesting future state. Today's adtech has within it the glimmerings of a computing architecture that will underpin our entire society. ... Every retail store you visit, every automobile you drive (or are driven by), every single interaction of value in this world can and will become data that interacts with this programmatic infrastructure.

Consider, if you will, that this kind of data gathering has already been brought outside the realm of keyboards and mouses. Your smartphone knows which ads to show you based on what you're touching with your fingers.

Also consider Nike's latest pop-up shop in New York, detailed by New York content network PSFK. As part of their shopping experience, customers are equipped with brainwave sensors that allow Nike to track their response to different stimuli at the shop. In this case, the data is being used to ultimately create an art project. But it's not a difficult leap to make to see how this could be considered one of Battelle's "data points."

Battelle concedes that the banner ad, as an advertisement, may well die some day. But its place in history is cemented. 

Given adtech's rise, let’s not forget its atomic unit of value: the oft-derided banner ad. In time the banner as we know it will most likely fade away, but its place in history is certain. One generation from now, we may not "click" on banner ads, but we’ll always be pulling into traffic, filing health insurance claims, buying clothes in retail stores, and turning up our thermostats. And those myriad transactions will be lit with data and processed by a real time infrastructure initially built to execute one pedestrian task: Serve a simple banner ad.

Last updated: Nov 21, 2013




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