Don Draper: Scourge of business, hero of information
At the beginning of Ken Auletta's "Googled," Auletta talks with Mel Karmazin, then the CEO of Viacom. Karmazin is aghast at Google's campaign to measure the effectiveness of advertising by tallying clicks. "I want a sales person in the process, taking that buyer out for drinks, getting an order they shouldn't have gotten," he frets. And if that's too subtle, Karmazin continued: "You don't want to have people know what works. When you know what works or not, you tend to charge less money than when you have this aura and you're selling mystique."
It's more evidence that the greatest advertising campaign of all time was for...advertising. Another way to phrase Karmazin's comment is, "the thing you need to know about the advertising business is that the people we're selling advertisements to are basically idiots and we routinely fleece them." And he said it to a reporter, knowing it would go into a book. It's straight gangster. The brand is so strong that the people behind it can freely admit the con at its heart.*
But I don't take much pleasure in the poor performance of online advertising. The advertising industry was benevolently inefficient. It enabled pretty much every mass information medium we've ever had. Newspapers and radio and television and the Internet (Google, Facebook, etc.) are all brought to you by the advertising industry. There's perhaps no single sector that has done as much to advance human knowledge as the people who sell you soap and cars and soda. They overcharged businesses for ads in order to subsidize producers and distributors of information (and, of course, make themselves rich). The problem with Google, Karmazin once told the company's founders, is that they're messing with "the magic." And they are.
*This obviously simplifies a bit. What online advertising is showing is that most advertisements are easily ignored. Which isn't the same as saying all are ignored. Advertising seems to be a long tail business, where most of it doesn't work, or doesn't work very well, but a few campaigns transform the sectors they target. Everyone is trying to get one of those campaigns. And if you do, it might be worth every penny and many more. But if you don't, you probably overpaid. Online advertising, because it charges based on how many clicks you actually get rather than how many clicks you hope you can get, is wiping out that overpayment, which is in turn wiping out the information sources that survived on that overpayment.
| December 6, 2010; 9:00 AM ET
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