We're about 15 years into the internet revolution as a mainstream phenomenon and by any measure internet advertising has to be deemed a major failure.
While the web itself has been a massive success (influencing virtually every aspect of our lives) advertising on the web is mostly a bad joke.
Fifteen years into its mainstream life, television had created scores of powerful consumer-facing brands.
The only truly powerful brands I can think of that web advertising has created are native web brands like Google, Yahoo, Amazon and Facebook. It's as if the only brands television was good at creating were CBS, NBC and ABC.
After 15 years, can anyone name even ten serious non-native consumer-facing brands that have been created primarily by web advertising? Is there a brand of coffee, butter, beer, bread, chicken, gasoline, soda, peanut butter, dog food, milk, tires, potato chips, life insurance, lawn mowers...don't make me go on, you get the point...that has been built primarily by web advertising?
Display advertising is a joke. Remember just a few years ago when they were selling us banner ads on the promise that "interactivity" would make these ads so much more efficient than traditional ads? Then they started measuring them and found that fewer than 2 people in a thousand were clicking. Oops.
Now they're making the same lame "branding" argument for online display ads they made against traditional print ads.
Online video advertising is another joke. 99% of all video is currently watched on a tv, not a computer.
Social media is a rumor. Everybody is hyperventilating about it, but nobody has any idea of how you even measure success. Here are three links (one, two, and three) to self-congratulatory videos of social media "experts" that run a total of almost 30 minutes.
In that 30 minutes I can't recall the word "sales" being mentioned even once. They're all about false goals: getting followers; creating "engagement"; creating "communities"; "re-organizing around the customer" and, of course, the ever-popular "blowing up silos." If you can get through this festival of smugness without contemplating suicide, you're a better man/woman/child/pet than I am.
These people are living in a different world.
I don't know about you, but if I walked into a meeting with one of my clients and told them that the purpose of the millions they're spending on advertising is to create "communities," they'd laugh me out of the room. They want sales and they want them now.
It is true that there's data to support the effectiveness of two types of online advertising: search and email. But is that it? Is that all the web is going to be? A medium of tactics? A Yellow Pages replacement and cheaper DM? How many powerful brands have been built by search and email? The answer: Zero.
Believe me, I'd love to see online advertising succeed. I'd love to have another forceful tool to help my clients succeed. But, like I've said before, online advertising is like communism. It's always going to be great some day, it's just never very good right now.
Impressionable advertisers are continuing to be sold more and more web advertising. But unless something changes pretty soon, marketers with brains and the ability to see beyond the hype and the baloney are going to start to catch on.
(For a follow-up to this piece, see this.)