It seems like everyone is busy looking to their left and to their right in hopes that someone else is going to come up with a way to revolutionize advertising. After thinking about this long and hard, it looks like it is not going to happen.
The last (and biggest) change we have seen on the advertising landscape is what Google has done. If you dig down deep into the history of Google AdWords (or if you were in the search engine business back then like I was), you'll quickly discover that GoTo.com (which became Overture, which became Yahoo Search Marketing) and players like FindWhat.com (which became Miva) had been selling keyword-targeted advertising on search engines based on an auction model long before Google even uttered the word, "monetization." There's no doubt that Google took the basic tenets of that model and mastered it. Look no further than the article, Secret of Googlenomics - Data-Fueled Recipe Brews Profitability, from Wired Magazine in June 2009 (it's a must-read for anyone interested in online marketing):
"One key innovation was that all the sidebar slots on the results page were sold off in a single auction. (Compare that to an early pioneer of auction-driven search ads, Overture, which held a separate auction for each slot.) The problem with an all-at-once auction, however, was that advertisers might be inclined to lowball their bids to avoid the sucker's trap of paying a huge amount more than the guy just below them on the page. So the Googlers decided that the winner of each auction would pay the amount (plus a penny) of the bid from the advertiser with the next-highest offer. (If Joe bids $10, Alice bids $9, and Sue bids $6, Joe gets the top slot and pays $9.01. Alice gets the next slot for $6.01, and so on.) Since competitors didn't have to worry about costly overbidding errors, the paradoxical result was that it encouraged higher bids."
Google didn't revolutionize a new advertising model, they evolved an existing platform, and that's a big lesson for the rest of us Marketers.
Sometimes the best (and biggest) leaps come from how we evolve and tweak the existing models - even the ones that are not performing as well as they used to. The old saying, "there's no need to reinvent the wheel," may feel a little clichÃ© in our world of following the latest and greatest shiny objects, but there may be some wisdom in those words (there usually is when a saying becomes so popular and disposable).
The bigger lesson simply is: before blowing everything up and starting over, there is probably a huge opportunity (with dollars attached) in looking at what you're presently doing (or what your competition is doing) and evolving it (with constant optimization along the way) before tossing the more traditional ways aside and trying to reinvent the whole model all over again. That's not to say that there is no value in starting a revolution in your industry, but - more often than not - the real revolution is really just a series of evolutions over time.
Businesses also seem to have more appetite to evolve their marketing services over trying to revolutionize the entire model. Maybe it's time we all started to think about how to evolutionize marketing instead of revolutionizing it.