October 12, 2011

Why The Web Has Been A Crappy Ad Medium

Digiday is running a 12-part series called Why Hasn't The Web Lived Up To Its Brand Promise? This is just an awkward, mealy-mouth way of asking "why has the web been such a crappy ad medium."

In the first installment, Digiday talked to some CEOs and presidents of companies who have been instrumental in either creating or selling web advertising.

The real news is that for the first time we're starting to hear a whole bunch of web professionals saying something that The Ad Contrarian has been blogging about for years -- the enormous gulf between what web advertising has promised and what it has delivered.

Unfortunately, Digiday has started this honorable project by talking to some of the wrong people. While a few of the respondents had cogent things to say, other responses were exactly what you'd expect -- excuses, blame, denial and self-delusion.

Here is a sample of some of the responses they got to the question, "Why has the Web fallen short as a brand-advertising medium?"
"...we never settled on brand metrics on how to appropriately measure brand impact..."
Bullshit. They sold us clicks, but when it turned out no one was clicking they decided they needed new metrics.
"...clutter. It's killing digital media."
Wrong. It was a bad ad medium before it was cluttered.
"Brand stewardship remains in the hands of traditional agencies and creatives who come up too seldom with brand ideas that lend themselves to great digital brand experiences."
Yeah, yeah, it's our fault. Creative people can do great things for every medium ever invented except the web. Gimme a f----ing break.
"Who says that it hasn't? The vast majority of brand studies that I have seen have shown lift. Clearly the Web is a great place for branding."
This guy needs some immediate professional help.

I'm going to save Digiday 11 more parts to its series and tell them why the web has been a lousy ad medium.

1. Interactivity is bullshit. No one wants to interact with ads. Banner advertising was sold on the idea that it would be much more effective than traditional print advertising because people would interact with it. They don't and it isn't.

2. Small space advertising has never been very effective. Online display ads are no more impactful than any other small space ad. The fact that they happen to appear on a screen instead of a page changes nothing.

3. Nobody in his right mind volunteers for advertising. Every kind of online advertising that is not display advertising requires volunteers. You have to seek it out. You have to seek a website or a Facebook page. You have to seek a YouTube video or a Twitter feed. There are only two ways to attract seekers. You either have to give them something for nothing, or provide them with "compelling content." Giving something for nothing is not a brilliant way to build a brand. And if you think that your mattress company is going to attract a significant number of viewers by creating "compelling content" you are seriously delusional.

4. The interruption model rules. Advertising is annoying. The only way to get most people to pay attention to it is to interrupt what they're doing. People are used to being interrupted while watching entertainment. But they hate being interrupted while communicating or seeking information. Most of what they do on line is communicate and seek information.

As I've said many times here, there are only two types of web advertising that have proven themselves consistently effective to me -- search (which is very effective) and email (which is somewhat effective.) So far, the rest has been rumors and anecdotes.

Any way you slice it, the key fact is that 15 years after its inception, I cannot come up with the name of one major consumer-facing non-native web brand that has been built primarily by web advertising.

It is encouraging, however, to see some people within the web advertising community finally coming out and admitting the shortcomings. Maybe if more web advertising people would stand up and acknowledge the issues they could help the web become what we all want it to be -- a more effective advertising medium.

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