I've been in the ad business a long time. But I've never experienced a more bewildering period than we have been through in the past 10 years.
We thought we knew what this decade was going to look like. We thought we knew the script. Just about everything we thought we knew has turned out to be wrong.
We thought that interactivity would make advertising far more engaging. We thought that traditional advertising was dead. We thought that TiVo was going to cripple TV. We thought the PC and the television were going to converge. None of this has happened.
Interactivity has not made advertising more engaging. In fact, interactivity is mostly a rumor. Display ads have a click-through rate that is less than 1 in a thousand. While consumers have shown substantial interest in using the web to search for things they've already decided they're interested in, they have shown almost no interest in interacting with the ads we produce. In other words, the web has proven to be far more effective at fulfilling demand than at creating it.
Anyone who still thinks traditional advertising is dead probably didn't watch a football game this weekend. I don't think I have ever seen more commercial messages squeezed into 3 1/2 hours.
TiVo's impact on television viewing and consumer behavior has been a weighty topic inside the marketing beltway but has been a non-event to consumers. While about 40% of Americans now have some sort of DVR, those who own one only watch recorded material about 5% of the time. What's more, owning a DVR has not changed their purchasing behavior one whit.
We are essentially no closer to the convergence of TV and the PC than we were ten years ago. We keep hearing that it's right around the corner, but we never seem to get to the corner. The latest stats I've seen say that over 98% of video is still viewed on a television.
The advertising landscape has been riddled with inconsistencies and cross-currents. Print advertising has certainly suffered. But television advertising has been booming. In 2008, as TV ad sales dropped significantly, it looked like the pundits were correct and that advertisers had lost confidence in traditional advertising. But now with TV ad sales growing and viewership at its highest point ever, it looks like the pundits were wrong and 2008 was about the recession.
Online advertising has been hit and miss. Search has certainly been effective, but display ads -- despite impressive sales growth -- have had a very discouraging record of effectiveness.
Social media has been a huge worldwide phenomenon, but social media marketing still has to prove it's a sales builder and a brand builder. With 60% of people who "friend" or "like" a brand saying that their primary motivation is to get something for nothing, it is hard to take seriously the argument that people are engaged in social media because they want to have "conversations" with brands.
And we're still waiting for the first major consumer-facing, non-web-native brand to be built primarily by online advertising.
You would think that the gulf between our expectations and the facts would give us pause. But no such thing has happened. Our delusional belief that we understand what is going on has not been weakened at all. If anything it has strengthened.
We are just as certain in our prognostications, just as arrogant in our pronouncements, just as sneaky in our data. We tell our clients half the truth half the time.
I am dismayed every week by how much of what is now accepted wisdom in the ad business is nothing but legend. I am disheartened by how little familiarity people in advertising have with the particulars. I am dumbfounded by how tolerant most clients are of false goals and how little appetite they have for the facts.
Perhaps the most confusing part of the past 10 years is not how far reality has veered from expectations, but how reluctant our industry is to validate its assumptions.