Functional Advertising is Prepaid Advertising

Who cares anyway!

Photo by Jonalyn San Diego on Unsplash


Being an engineer myself, I have always wondered why companies took advertising sooooo seriously.

For one thing, I never cared for much about whether I have seen a “product” on TV or not. I like products that have some familiarity, recommended by friend/family member, have some utility and efficacy.

For another thing, it is really hard to “measure” the effectiveness of advertising. No! Actually, impossible. This makes my “engineering” mind quite weary…

It is not enough to have a cliche such as “50 percent of advertising is useful, the other 50 percent is wasteful; we just don’t know which is which”. That’s a circular argument!

It is not enough to claim that advertising is “psychological”/emotional, “social” and “subjective”… We still NEED to know what the objective “effect” of advertising IS. Is it to make the “brand” more visible? Granted! Now, how do we measure that? Is it to make the “product” sell like hotcakes? Granted! Now, how do we measure that? Is it to increase customer visits? Granted! Now, how do we measure that; and why are customer “visits” so important (yet another metric!) anyway?

Social Media!

The biggest thing to have happened to advertising in the past two decades is, of course, social media!

What social media did, was to provide platforms for continuous “social engagement” with the intended “hooks” of 1) keeping users active on the website/s, almost daily, 2) helping advertisers “target” specific users through the media of the users’ interests, likes, life-events, location, age, views, etc.

What this brought us is a BRAND NEW WORLD, in which the companies that “advertise” can be A LOT MORE SPECIFIC in their “target” (Ad) viewership and (Ad) messaging.

What this, however, neglected, is some of the terrible side-effects of this NEW advertising scheme: i.e. users feel a lot more “deprived” of their buying agency/privacy + an “ad” is usually INTRUSIVE in terms of the overall service experience (a user is on the internet to ‘talk to a friend’, NOT to buy a yet another car!) + the “problem” of efficacy is NOT YET SOLVED!

Functional Ads!

When Google created the “world’s BEST search engine”, it was (in retrospect!) quite “obvious” that advertising would be one of their KEY sources of revenue. (That was already the case with Yahoo! by then anyway…).

What is remarkable though, is that this was one of the FIRST key attempts, in the ENTIRE HISTORY OF THE UNIVERSE, in which one could actually “locate” an instance of a “functional ad”.

Functional ads have a “purpose” linkage to what the user is ACTUALLY and currently looking for. If one googles for “cheap houses in Berlin”, it makes sense to have an ad that also shows an agent selling houses in the same vicinity.

Social Media platforms took this to the “next level”: they attempted to “predict” your needs/wants before YOU even think you have them. They then use these “predictions” to advertise products refined to your tastes, location, wants, likes and preferences.

Unfortunately, this particular “next level” is NOT entirely useful. As already stated, privacy/agency, intrusiveness, and efficacy are all problems that these social media platforms are currently STRUGGLING to solve!

Prepaid Advertising …

Imagine a world…

  1. In which users “opt IN” or “OUT” of ads.
  2. In which advertisers “pay” users DIRECTLY to watch their ads.
  3. In which users ONLY see an ad only WHEN they have explicitly expressed an intent/wish to BUY something similar.
  4. In which EVERY ad/website/app/brochure/poster/TV-ad/social-media-“message” has, by necessity, a FUNCTIONAL call to action (e.g. “place an order” button/s).
  5. Every “DESIGN”/product/retail-site experience is PART of the “ad”.

A Transactional Anarchist