Tuesday, September 19, 2006

And...what about Naomi?

Every morning on my way to work, I pass an odd billboard of Abraham Lincoln in front of what appears to be a garage door. The only words I can see on the ad are a URL: http://www.theymissyou.com/. This morning I entered the URL and, voila--it's a rather clever website for a sleep aid medication.

Abe and friends are part of what is called a "teaser" advertising campaign. These campaigns consist of media objects--ads, videos on YouTube, fake MySpace pages--that get one's attention by being a little mysterious. The New York Times has a nice article about how the Lonelygirl15 phenomenon on YouTube has galvanized the teaser ad trade.

(Lonelygirl15 was the screen name of a young woman who posted videos on YouTube like the one above, and who attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors and even some academic speculation. In the end, it turned out to be a film project that might very well become a movie, and its creators have encouraged their fans to "stay tuned.")

The economics of advertising is interesting. Advertising improves economic efficiency by lowering search costs and providing information to consumers, but it also reduces economic efficiency because it is inherently non-productive.

The economics of teaser ads are doubly interesting. Some questions that they bring to my mind are:

1. Teaser ads do not provide any information. Does this mean that they unambiguously decrease economic efficiency? (I don't think so, but I think there's an argument that they do.)

2. One of the difficulties with advertising is that you don't know how many people see an ad. When a teaser ad requires that you go to a website to get the information from the ad, there is a record of how many people view the website. Does this help improve the efficiency in the market for advertising?

3. Many of these ads--in particular the McDonald's Lincoln Fry campaign--are actually quite humorous. Is there a consumption value to advertising? Are ads like works of art? Could it be possible that there are too few ads out there? (Or at least too few good ones?)

(And by the way -- the title of this post comes from the "teaser" question from each episode of the soap opera "Love of Chair.")

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