Opting in to advertising

This video  'Embrace Life always wear your seat belt' by Alexander Commercials for Sussex Safer Roads was just named YouTube Ad of the Year 2010.

"What?!" I hear you cry.  "It beat 'The Man Your Man Could Smell Like'?!"

"What?!" I cry, louder.  "What's this about a YouTube Ad of the Year Award?!"

These aren't awards for those annoying text ads that intrude briefly on your YouTube videos before you banish them with a click of the x. These are awards for ads posted on YouTube. Some have aired on TV as well, others are YouTube exclusives; but the remarkable thing about them is that people choose to watch them.

Advertising on TV, on billboards, on the radio, in cinemas, on the tube and in sidebars, headers and pop-ups online are generally considered an irritation. Ads are something to endure, the price we pay for the TV programme we're watching or the website we're browsing.

But on YouTube, ads don't always have to piggyback on other quality content to get their messages heard. People proactively seek some ads, or at least choose to watch instead of ignore them when they're served up in search results, and even share them with their networks. The ad is the content, instead of being peripheral to it.

It sounds like an advertiser's Shangri-La: a place where the customers come to the ads. Handled right, it's also a powerful driver of proactive, positive brand engagement: the Philosopher's Stone of content marketing. But the alchemical change works both ways: this kind of customer behaviour is transforming the world of advertising and marketing into a meritocracy.

Getting your ad seen by huge numbers of consumers is no longer solely dependent on having an advertising budget big enough to cover a Superbowl slot. Instead, high visibility is becoming more and more dependent on the quality of the content. Customers choosing to be advertised to is an attitudinal gear-change that's hard for me to get my head around  but I doubt I'll ever see the day when people choose to be advertised to badly.

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