Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Sunday, August 29, 2004

The New Web Advertising Paradigm: Bottom-up, Distributed, Customized, Credible

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Bottom-up advertising is an idea whose time has come.

The tipping point came about 3 days ago, when John Battelle finally published a short but powerful blog post entitled "Sell Side Advertising: A New Model?".


The idea had been indeed circulating for some time through a few blog sites and you just could it feel coming: independent Web publishers becoming the true drivers of a new advertising paradigm.

At last the ripple touched shore.

John Battelle, Ross Mayfield (and a pretty long list of suddenly miracled believers) are finally picking up on the issue that will make independent publishers, online news reporters, digital information librarians, newsmaster and bloggers become sustainable and profitable active voices in the online networked marketplaces.

The current advertising model is turned upside down with control and direction taken over by the end publishers, Web 'zine editors, online reporters, news bloggers. Call it "transitive advertising", bottom-up advertising, open listings, ethical grassroots marketing, it is the realization in vision and strategy of what the Cluetrain Manifesto philosophy has been paving for the last four years.

John Battelle writes in response to Ross Mayfield article on CPI Advertising:

"In essence, this new model for online ads reverses the relationship between publishers and advertisers.

In traditional advertising models, the advertiser holds all the cards. They decide what they want to spend, and most importantly, where they want to spend it.

But the rise of pay-for-performance networks like Overture and AdWords/AdSense has changed this relationship in significant ways.

First, advertisers are only paying when their ad performs - this alone is a huge shift in media.

But as I've pointed out repeatedly, these networks also disaggregate advertisers from publishers.

The advertisers are no longer choosing the publisher with whom they are doing business, they are instead choosing keywords, concepts, context."

In the new bottom-up advertising scenario advertisers release their banners, promoboxes and text links on the Web for final publishers to be picked up at will.

These new type of ads would self-contain enough intelligent code to be able to report back to advertisers how well they are performing, how many people are potentially seeing them (page impressions), how many are effectively clicked, and how many lead to an immediate sale.

According to Battelle, and this is where I think one needs to question further his assumptions, advertisers would specify which types of sites they would prefer to be placed on, and what audience demographics they want to reach and which kind of sites can carry their ad messages without restrictions.

I see this expectation on the part of the advertisers to still dictate control as to who can or cannot carry their messages to be a strong contradiction to how this system would perfectly work. To me this appears as a carried-over-distortion from the old advertiser paradigm.

The puritanical issue of walling off sites that may command (according to the advertiser) little credibility is indeed another relic of the wicked advertiser mind of the past. Sites that so generically end up slotted as not credible because they may deal with sex, gambling or other apparently not too noble activities, command notable attention and trust from their visitors, who nonetheless choosing to invest their money in these activities, have like everyone else interests, product preferences, money to spend and eyes to read credible messages. I think these sites are not to be discounted as credibility destroyers. These sites communicate with audiences that are as alive, rich and tangible as the morally sane ones you would like to limit your advertising to. If markets are true conversations we must be able to accept the idea that all markets have a value and there are none to be dismissed.

But back to the main topic. Advertisers providing supplemental information about their company, their product, typical customers and whatever else related to it can't be said to be negative in nature by itself. It may actually be useful for some of both the new online advertisers and publishers entering these Web-based markets.

At the extreme, this is essentially superfluous information, as messages (your present ads) would find with total efficiency their best channels without need for any external control or direction as this.

It is only when the advertiser wants to maintain direct control of the message that you can see the beautiful new paradigm we were just painting fade off into a bastardized dialect of what we already have.

If this Bottom-up Advertising is the true paradigm shift required by online markets to synch up with the networked information buzzway that the Web is, we must give in to the fact that the transformation has to be thorough.

Yes, what today we still call advertising can become an effective, socially valuable, and efficient mean of exchanging information where no-one exploits no-one else.

If it is true that the advertiser rightfully cares only about selling its products/services it should follow that as long as the publisher can deliver that performance the advertiser should not be dictating who, how or when this opportunistic right may be accessed.
But here is more to this great, absolutely ripe idea.

It is Ross Mayfield personal addition to how this mechanism could be engineered in a way that rewards all players involved. Here is John Battelle still reporting:

"Once the ads are let loose, here's the cool catch - ANYONE who sees those ads can cut and paste them, just like a link, into their own sites.

The ads track their own progress, and through feeds they "talk" to their "owner" - the advertiser (or their agent/agency).

These feeds report back on who has pasted the ad into what sites, how many clicks that publisher has delivered, and how much juice is left in the ad's bank account.

The ad propagates until it runs out of money, then it... disappears!

If the ad is working, the advertiser can fill up the tank with more money and let it ride."


"I love this model because it's viral and it's publisher driven - it lets the publishers decide which ads fit on their sites.

Publishers won't put ads on their site that don't perform, and they'll compete to put up ads that do.

...Publishers are, in a very real sense, endorsing the advertiser, and that publisher's endorsement carries weight with the reader. (Publishers who endorse lame ads, or ads that take advantage of the reader, will be punished by the readers voting with their feet...)."

Absolutely correct.

This is real music for my ears. Let me jump a bit!

To top it all, Ross Mayfield CPI idea is a true bonus that may indeed help this concept fly: "The ad tracks not only where it is at any given time, but where it came from. So when I copy an ad from, [another publisher site] , [that publisher] gets a piece of the action for being the referring site."

What else then does this Bottom-up advertising need to fully reflect the paradigm shift it wants so much to herald?

a) The message can't be ONE.

Each publisher should be free within some agreeable limits, to express, word, customize the message about the product/service being advertised in the way sHe feels most appropriate.

One message is the paradigm of the old communication systems. Top-down, one message for one audience. Mainstream radio, TV and newspaper advertising at their best. Replaceable messages for replaceable products. It doesn't work the same way on the Web, or am I missing something?

This paradigm evidently can't stand on premises of old traditional advertising which meant boasting stories and ideas that were just a deceit, and hiding true stories about products and the people who built them behind all-too-perfect corporate marketing communications.

b) Transparency, is therefore a core component and uniquely characterizing trait of the parties joining these new types of informational business conversations we have just been exploring. Without it, the story falls flat on its face.

Sorry to repeat it, but from what I can see, it all amounts to bringing out on both sides of this exchange, advertisers and publishers that embody all of the very traits that the Cluetrain Manifesto so clearly spelled out.

c) Ultimately it may prove even unnecessary in such a hyperlinked and interconnected open marketplace to keep separate the message carriers from the sellers as such. And so, the most credible message carriers may surprisingly be again the ones that today would appear to be the least credible: the ones who actually sell something.

Let me try to stretch this one out and see how far off you think I am.

Think of an independent small publisher, news site or pro blogger you personally like and trust to the bottom.

One question:, how much do you trust and value the endorsement of that person for the advertisers on hir site. Can you even tell, if sHe endorses any of that or if sHe is just accepting ads for their monetary value?

(Indeed, I guess, you can. Especially because many of such publishers don't make a secret about their ethic, and therefore it is quite clear if ads reflect their mission or their bank account expectations.)

Now tell me: If your preferred independent newsman, pro blogger or independent site now decides not just to promote, but to SELL that product directly, how much does your credibility and trust into the value of that product soar?

Food for thought?

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posted by Robin Good on Sunday, August 29 2004, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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