In the golden age of television, an ad on one of the big three networks could reach 70 percent of the viewing audience. But then the landscape changed: along came cable digital video recorders like Tivo, which allow viewers to fast forward through ads with the click of a remote. The viewing audience became not only scattered and fractured but in control -- a horrifying reality to Madison Avenue.
"I mean, we're in a period now where consumers are in control of their media truly and it's not just television," Joe Mandese, editor-in-chief of Media Post, said. "It's everywhere and I think that's really challenging Madison Avenue and advertisers and agencies to find new ways of breaking through to connect with people."
To do that, Mandese, who has been tracking the advertising world for 25 years, says advertisers today are scrambling to hunt down their once captive audience wherever they can find them.
Since people are spending more time away from home, marketers are spending more money on bringing TV to you: in shopping malls and in grocery stores. There's even an Autonet in auto repair shops, and of course, advertising reaches people on computers and movie screens.
"There's more media than ever before," Mandese said. "Media is being spawned every second. I mean literally, by the time I finish saying this sentence, there'll be a new media platform created"
To reach people, advertisers have had to get much more creative digitally inserting virtual products within shows and even video games -- making them part of the entertainment instead of a break from the entertainment.
"Advertisers like our products because they give 'em a chance to get into the programming itself, into the sports program," said Hank Adams, CEO of Sportsvision, a company that has pioneered the art of placing ads on America's playing fields.
Using Sportsvision technology, people in the stands see the unadorned wall, while people at home see another.
"Because we do it technologically – digitally -- we make that sign very bright, very visible," Adams said.
Sportsvision can run about 18 ads in the course of a baseball game but the company tries hard not to run interference.
"You don't want to offend the viewer," Adams said, "You don't want to distract them from the actual game because at the end of the day, if the fan doesn't like it, that's not good for my business."
The danger of offending the viewer is where advertisers in the modern age run into trouble: in a desperate attempt to grab the consumers' attention, advertisers are creating what is known as ad clutter.
"Well, it's a non-stop blitz of advertising messages," President of the Marketing Firm Yankelovich, Jay Walker-Smith said. "Everywhere we turn we're saturated with advertising messages trying to get our attention."
Walker-Smith says we've gone from being exposed to about 500 ads a day back in the 1970's to as many as 5,000 a day today.
"It seems like the goal of most marketers and advertisers nowadays is to cover every blank space with some kind of brand logo or a promotion or an advertisement," Walker-Smith said.
Marketers have found a way to use parking stripes, postage stamps and floors, even buses and buildings, like a target ad which practically engulfs an entire New York city block. Walker-Smith says it's all an assault on the senses.