Future Flash: Digital vertigo

Entrepreneur and author Andrew Keen caused debate during his Muskoka presentation, looking at why branded content won't work.

The content model is broken, and branded content isn’t going to save it, according to Andrew Keen, entrepreneur, former journalist and author, who has studied and worked in the digital content business since the ’90s.

Keen spoke on the first day of the ICA Future Flash conference in Muskoka, blasting the industry for holding onto its conservative business model and for playing a role in the failure of digital content.

In a presentation that had folks in the audience shouting out protestations and defending branded content’s purpose, Keen highlighted that third-party neutral content, such as that produced by musicians or news organization is dying, and that the fault lies in its original efforts to give it away for free in the hopes that advertising follows.

However in many cases, ad revenue didn’t follow. And today, stalwart content producers are failing.┬áKeen has first-hand experience, having launched Audiocafe.com in 1995, before it folded in 2000.

It’s time the marketing industry stepped in to help, he says, because without content, ads will have nothing to sell against. Keen, however, was adamant that branded content was not the solution. Online, consumers will see through a brand’s attempt to sell them products. His remarks drew debate from the audience who defended branded content as an effective means of reaching consumers – something that’s been done for years in the marketing industry.

As content shifts away from high-production value sources, like television or print, and online content falters with a lack of revenue to back it, consumers will start becoming their own producers of content over social media, which will cause major issues for advertisers and more generally, society. “What will it mean for society [when] we all become walking billboards of ourselves?”

For marketers who view this as a positive thing (the more social information we share digitally, the better targeted ads can be), this will likely cause a real issue for consumers down the road, he predicts. Though this may not be a huge issue for this generation or the next coming up, but the ubiquity of personal data floating around cyber-space utilized by marketers (as well as governments) will eventually cause a backlash. “The more you know about people, the less trust they have,” he says.

Again, debaters in the crowd rose up defending the collection of data. So long as the reward for forking over personal information was great enough, consumers were happy to turn their data over to marketers, many said.