About the ‘extraordinarily ugly’ Yonge-Dundas Square
Reading this piece in the Toronto Star about Yonge-Dundas Square reminded me a lot about the state of digital media in recent years:
Like most media products, what started out as a simple idea to fill a need for a specific audience sometimes ends up being something nobody in particular wants because of the pressure to extract every possible dollar as soon as possible. You could argue that the current iteration of Yonge and Dundas is better than the “criminal landscape” it once was. But does it serve anyone in particular, most notably the community? It’s often compared to New York’s Times Square which isn’t much of a compliment considering how much New Yorkers hate Times Square. But back to the parallels with media:
The tragedy of the commons
I can’t help but think of the tragedy of the commons when I see Yonge-Dundas Square or see the layer upon layer of ad products crowding media sites. Like a healthy grazing pasture that is equipped to sustain and benefit all parties indefinitely if managed properly, the race to exploit it for short-term gain ruins the pasture for everyone. Advertising can be beneficial to everyone — the publisher, the audience and the client — if managed properly and with some restraint. I love the Miami Dolphins. The Miami Herald for years was my go-to source but it has become increasingly difficult to even load a single article because of all the third party ad products vying for processing power. See one in action and decide for yourself whether a) you would be patient enough to sit through the load time for every article and b) you can follow the text easily as it keeps breaking to insert some in-line widget. So now I think twice before clicking a Herald headline and wonder if I can just get the same story somewhere else.
Audience vs. traffic
I saw this short video yesterday from L2 Gartner describing audience vs. traffic. Like any great advice, we already know this as common sense but there is a simplicity to how it’s explained that makes the message jump off the page. Other than manufactured events, there’s no authentic, organic draw to Yonge-Dundas Square except foot traffic who have to go through the area to reach the subway. For media companies, I argued in my previous post that as the audience grows, the quality of that audience declines.
‘Advertising’ is not a bad word
Ads often get demonized. Sometimes it’s because of the content but usually because of the excess. It’s often not a problem with the content but the execution. Branded content has come a long way and offers opportunities to produce content audiences want and include brands organically.
Content (and public spaces) can be developed to attract audience. Advertising can be included. The two can work together to achieve scale that works for everyone but the secret to success is time, attention and patience. There are no shortcuts.