Is Microsoft predicting a pandemic?

“If you see an illness and you don’t call the industry to arms to try and cure it then you are just going to die along with the rest of the industry.”
- Andy Hart, European VP for advertising and online at Microsoft (Marketing 21/03/13)

Mr Hart’s pronouncement on the dire state of the online ad industry is strangely reminiscent of the ‘Crime is a disease. Meet the cure’ strapline from Sylvester Stallone’s Cobra. It’s maybe equally as overblown. But I have to say that I do like the cut of his rhetoric; especially if it shocks us into action.

When I say ‘us’, I’m obviously not referring to you and me – purveyors of high quality, creative and relevant online advertising content. But I am talking about the other guys. The ones who see online as a cheap free-for-all. Where they can shout their wares at us for the umpteenth time and then stalk us around the internet in the hope that we’ll eventually give in to their demands.

According to Matthew Chapman’s recent news report, Mr Hart’s overriding fear is that we’re ‘training consumers to avoid ads’. It seems to be a strongly founded one too. The relative inexpensiveness of the medium often means that little creative integrity goes into the production of content. Yes, there are some wonderful exceptions, but they are few and far between. Can we self-regulate? Well, yes, but we’re rarely the offenders. It’s the fly-by-nighters who already have complete disregard for the industry.

Even if there was a desire, can we really police a global medium in the same way that we regulate domestic TV and radio? And, most importantly, who would sit on the panel that judges which ads are the most ‘beautiful, useful and relevant’? The danger is that the online fly-tippers would carry on regardless and cutting-edge creativity would be compromised.