The Public's Takeover Of Advertising

What comes to mind when you think of advertising? Of the many things running through your head, you might not think advertising can be a solution to the disproportionate allocation of wealth and opportunity or a tool for ending the conflict between business and our environment.   

We have been conditioned to believe that the power of advertising is in its ability to persuade us through words and images. In fact, today the most powerful influence it has over our life and society comes not from its power to persuade but from the system for delivering the message. Hidden in the method for delivering ads lies a transformative tool the public can use for unlocking the greatest social, political and economic change of the 21st century.   

To begin grasping how this is possible we must start with a quick look at how our economic system of capitalism is so influenced by advertising.    

Capitalism is about maximizing the return for those who invest their capital. It is a philosophical belief that the highest return ensures the soundest investment in people and ideas. But, two crucial factors for increasing profits i.e. increasing returns on investment are low labor costs and less competition.

Think of the effect these factors have on the U.S. population where eighty percent of our citizens rely on someone else for their employment and a living wage. The first factor driving our economic system seeks to find the cheapest labor anywhere on the planet. This puts all of us in a vulnerable competition for our economic liberty. Should there be any surprise when this competition manifests everything from racism, xenophobia, class conflict and even a resistance to necessary environmental change if it may hurt jobs. In this economic system people are forced to see each other and even innovation as threats to their economic survival.

These negative effects get compounded when you apply the second factor, which seeks to create barriers of entry to new businesses in order to limit competition. Less competition means higher profits but fewer businesses and fewer jobs. The combination of these two factors fuels a consolidation of wealth and power away from the public into the hands of fewer business owners and their shareholders. In a system where money equates to quality of life we are feeding the perfect storm for consolidating wealth, opportunity and power into fewer hands.

Another byproduct of this concentration of economic power is how less business competition equates to less consumer influence. This is important because the less choice a consumer has the less influence they have on the economic system that shapes their society. This is how we get a consumer base forced to keep supporting businesses who are misaligned with the public’s interests in a healthier environment, better labor laws, fairer trade deals, or limits the influence business has on our government. Less choice ensures a consumer base that has little influence over the real power shaping our life and planet.

What does all this have to do with advertising? Advertising is the public’s way for starting to reverse these forces of consolidation and consumer disempowerment. It achieves this by helping to create millions of new micro and small businesses that are aligned with the public’s values.

The biggest obstacle to building a successful business is the cost of finding your audience and gaining their attention. It is not the “cost” of placing an ad but the real cost of how many ads it takes before making a sale. What if advertising was so efficient that this cost was negligible? What if any company at any time could speak to exactly the right people at the right time and receive their attention. Which businesses would win then?

Advertising today is so inefficient that most small businesses cannot afford to properly invest in their growth. This inability to compete for customers allows larger companies with their big advertising budgets to dominate consumer choice.  Less choice mean less consumer influence over which businesses succeed and what they do. This results in fewer businesses that are more dominant and more profitable. Fewer businesses result in fewer jobs, stagnant wages, and an economy misaligned with public’s values.  

If we change advertising so it dramatically lowers the cost of acquiring a new client then we fundamentally change the competitive landscape of business. We blow the doors wide open to millions of new small and micro businesses so they can compete. This results in millions of additional business owners and jobs while also strengthening consumer choice. This one change holds the power of tilting the economic power back into the hands of workers and consumers.

The only way we can achieve such efficiency in advertising involves putting the public back in control of their personal privacy and letting businesses purchase access directly from the individual. In other words, you remove all the middlemen from the advertising game and empower individuals to be the sole owner and seller of their data and attention. Businesses pay the individual receiving the ad for the right to advertise to them. Each individual controls which businesses they choose to sell access to so he/she can ensure the highest relevancy while maximizing their earnings. Essentially businesses use their advertising dollars to compensate the public for building and participating in the most efficient public owned ad network.

Instead of ad dollars going to third parties such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, cable television networks, radio, newspapers, magazines, and bloggers, it goes directly to the people who are the true owners of their data and attention. This gets all these businesses out of the data collection and invasion of privacy business and returns them to a subscription-based model.  This has profound positive effects on the quality of our media by removing the huge influence of business sponsors.

When the public reclaims their personal privacy they seize control of the most powerful tool businesses use to compete against each other. They not only help foster massive new business growth, which helps the public but also maintain their power to choose the new competitor who is better aligned with their values.

The transformative power of advertising is not found in the content itself but the system for delivering it. This method is fueling an economic system that drains the wealth and power from the majority of our citizens, hurts new business growth, slows innovation and reduces our ability to align business with the public’s values.  How can we change this? Make advertising more democratic by putting the public in control of advertising i.e. empower them to reclaim their personal privacy.