July 22, 2013

The 5 Dumbest Ideas About Online Advertising

The phenomenal rise of the internet as a medium of communication, information, and entertainment has given rise to some equally phenomenal conceptual flops about advertising.

Back in the day, online advertising was going to "change everything." It has changed nothing. Advertisers are still mostly doing on the web exactly what they did in traditional advertising -- bugging the shit out of us with the crumbiest, most annoying ads possible in all the places we are most likely to be bugged and annoyed. Oh yeah, and millions of pages of self-serving "content" that no one pays any attention to.

Here at The Ad Contrarian Global Worldwide Headquarters, over the past six years, we've been chronicling the fantasies and delusions about web advertising that pass for "thinking" in marketingland.

Today we take inventory of these dumb ideas. We have selected our 5 favorites and we present them to you in one neat little bundle, in no particular order, but numbered to keep you on track.

Here are The 5 Dumbest Ideas About Online Advertising 
1. Interactivity
The hypothesis behind this daydream was that the same consumer who was frantically clicking a TV remote to escape from advertising was going to merrily click a mouse to interact with it. Marketers and agencies bought into this baloney big time. It didn't take long for it to become clear that no one wanted to interact with ads. The poor bastards trying to sell this stuff quickly changed the nomenclature from "interactive" advertising to "display" advertising. Fortunately for them, most of the flat tires who pass for "marketing experts" were too confused to realize what happened. The good news for the ad industry is that no matter how ineffectual banner advertising is, it just keeps growing and spinning off money. The rate of interaction with banner ads is below one click in a thousand. This is not interactivity. This is absence of interactivity.
2. The death of television 
From Let's Just Declare TV Dead And Move On, TechCrunch, November 2006...
"..the writing is on the wall...at the end of the day, people want to consume content without the friction of having to sit down in front of a television at an appointed time....There is a fundamental shift in consumer behavior going on..."  
In the 7 years since TechCrunch and the rest of the pundit digerati declared TV dead, viewing has been at its highest level ever in history. Other than that, they nailed it.
3. Permission marketing 
The concept here was that the "interruption model" of advertising was no longer viable and was being made obsolete by the web. The mantra was that "the consumer is in charge" and in order to be successful you had to charm "the consumer" into giving you "permission" to market to her. This has proven to be thoroughly wrong. In fact, the aforementioned banner advertising -- the poster child of the interruption model -- is growing at alarming rates and is in danger of taking over the entire Internet unless Brad Pitt gets in there and stops it.
4. The conversation 
This "big idea" posited that consumers want to have online conversations with marketers, and online engagement with brands. It turns out that even consumers aren't that stupid. This nonsense completely misinterpreted the relationship between consumers and the vast majority of the stuff they buy. It assumed every brand was Nike or Apple. The facts tell the story very clearly: the engagement rate for posts of the top 200 brands on Facebook is under 1/2 of 1%. Conversations? More like monologues.
5. Convergence 
If you believed the experts and pundits, TV and the web should have converged a long time ago. There have been a thousand different set-top boxes and gizmos that were supposed to effectuate this convergence. We were supposed to be watching all our favorite TV shows on YouTube and Hulu without the annoying interference of advertising. Convergence is nowhere near a reality. According to the latest data I can find from Nielsen, TV constitutes 98% of video viewing. Less than 2% of video is viewed on line, despite all the porn you're watching.
Now that you've read this and are feeling particularly smug because you figured this stuff out yourself a long time ago while your boss was deluded by the fantasies of web magic, let me give you a little advice. Do not take this and show it to her and say "see, I told you." You will only succeed in getting your ass fired for being a "Luddite dinosaur." Because no matter how dumb these ideas are, I guarantee you, your digital maniac of a boss is dumber.


Gerald Hensel said...

You are totally right....if online advertising and digital platforms would be the same. But they aren't.

Butler said...

you talk a lot about evidence - or the lack thereof - but rarely cite yours.

and when you do it's 4 year old studies with questionable methodologies that look only at a specific market (North America) and go on to generalise it in a wider context.

poor show.

Ru said...

eugh. I've read your blog for a while now and the one thing that seems to pop up more than most is your inability to quote any sources or reliable figures.

Also being incendiary for incendiary's sake? YOU know full well that it's all relative, so the 1% of conversation on a Facebook page is not comparable to the TV ad engagement you are championing.

Not only that but as the gentleman below me has already mentioned, online advertising and digital platforms are highly different. Conversions and sales are not the only thing that companies use online marketing for. So how do you measure the unquantifiable stuff? Are you saying that ALL brand marketing done offline is also useless? How much engagement does a brand do away from online platforms? Can we have a comparison? Because it may well make that 1% look enormous. As I said, it's all relative. 1% of a trillion is still a big number.

The funny quips would be funnier if there was substance the arguments. Alas we also know how reliable internet surveys can be. Dime a dozen and with tiny sample sizes. Let's see a year on year comparison for each segment, relative to each other shall we?

I guess a good blog is meant to instigate discussion but you have based this entire thing on being a contrarian just for the sake of it.
Good linkbait though.

CopyBeard said...

Studies be damned. This is all just common sense (something sadly lacking in the world today).

We know most of this stuff instinctively - which is what advertising used to be about before research and data made everything a numbers game.

With that in mind, I'd be interested to hear what you think online advertising *should* be, as opposed to what it shouldn't.

Stay contrary sir.

dmarti said...

If you ever expand this to a top 10, you might want to save a spot for targeting.


The industry still believes that you can make advertising more "efficient" by paying for creepy targeting instead of quality content to run the ads on -- but if that worked, email spam would have worked in the 1990s.

bob hoffman said...

Yeah, well this blog happens to be called The Ad Contrarian. If you want the Digital Platform Contrarian I'm afraid you came to the wrong place.

BB Hainsworth said...

If you have followed this blog you will know that the evidence has been quoted in past blogs. (And with a bit of sarcasm), if you click on the blue print, you get the reference to his points. Regarding questionable methodologies, I suggest to you that any are more reliable than any you can quote regarding digital or online or whatever you would like to call this shiny new toy.

Butler said...

On the contrary. I'd suggest that poorly conducted studies lead to ill-informed deductions and bad business decisions.

I'd also suggest that the wealth of data that is part and parcel of properly-tracked online marketing activity is objectively and demonstrably more reliable than offline studies, with their meagre sample sizes and out-moded, demographic-based pseudo science.

BB Hainsworth said...

Then why don't you list these properly tracked online marketing studies you speak of?

Cecil B DeMille said...

Online advertising is still just advertising. It works the same as other advertising – regardless of what people think it does or how people think it works. 1) Craft convincing message. 2) Place ad. 3) Wait.

TV, print, radio, online, outdoor and the sandwich board the local pub hangs on the hobo all follow the same basic formula. The medium isn't irrelevant, but the success of an ad is pretty much dependent on the ad itself. The only reason we tire of online ad talk is that it pretends to be something it isn't: revolutionary. Or even evolutionary.

And ad is an ad. A contrarian is a contrarian. When we accept these things, we are much happier.

Gerald Hensel said...

You simply cannot separate both worlds. I am surprised you think that this is possible. A banner is not a stand-alone asset. And a banner is obviously not a TV ad. Nobody likes banners. But they deliver results if they are connected to the right platform.

Gerald Hensel said...

I wholeheartedly agree. Specifically when it comes to the 1 vs 99% Youtube vs TV figure. It's just ridiculous to equalize both figures. Did you ever hear anything of lean forward vs lean back....ummm.....preparing sandwiches for the kids while the TV is on?

Butler said...

Not studies -- activity.

Digital marketing taps into 'offline' studies just as traditional marketing taps into 'online' ones (though arguably less often). Poor use of data isn't exclusive to either.

My point is that the sources cited here are old-wordly nonsense being used to support old-worldy nonsense, if you will.

Mark Barber said...

Would be good to see some new-wordly nonsense that is comparable to the old-worldy nonsense so we can all get a proper sense of perspective. But despite 'the wealth of data that is part and parcel of properly tracked online marketing activity' this seems to be beyond the wit of the new-wordly soothsayers...

BB Hainsworth said...

I simply asked you to cite your data and what I hear is ... that is right, more billable hours.

Butler said...

You didn't 'simply' ask anything. Your question made no sense.

BB Hainsworth said...

Butler, how would you like me to ask the question? Does "Please enlighten me on this new wordly nonsense" work? If I am going to avoid traditional advertising what makes the digital advertising so much more appealing that I am going to engage and converse with it. It was a simple question, please show me the proof you speak of. Its all crap if it doesn't sell anything.

Butler said...

Who mentioned avoiding traditional marketing? I certainly didn't.

You're either being intentionally hyperbolic or you're lacking the comprehension to adequately digest and engage with my points.

Can you accept that digital advertising is more immediately and accurately measurable than traditional alternatives? Are you aware that every sale can be attributed back directly to every click in a conversion funnel across multiple channels?

Can you accept the limitations of small sample size studies and how generalising the conclusions of these studies across a wider population is flawed?

If so, you've got my points pretty much nailed down.

Am I going to write an essay on the pros and cons of digital advertising in a comment thread on what is itself a poorly evidenced and agenda-laden post? No. But rest assured, if I did, I'd use solid data or a well designed offline study to do support my arguments.

BB Hainsworth said...

Please use a little class Butler. No need to insult. I call them as I see them. I await your essay.

Anonymous said...


show us the links to the studies!

and this is - pardon my lingo - the biggest piece of crap ever said:
"Are you aware that every sale can be attributed back directly to every click in a conversion funnel across multiple channels?"

Butler said...

Nice choice of alias. Way to confuse everyone...

Every sale that takes place online can be tracked and correctly attributed back to clicks across any given channel and attributed back to corresponding marketing activities.

This is pretty well-documented and pervasive stuff. Simply remarking that my statement is the 'biggest piece of crap ever said' does not make it so.

matthewtarpy said...

Actually that statement about every sale being trackable is true. I work on the technology implementation side of things, and we absolutely can look at a particular sale, pluck it out and see when, where and how that person entered the purchase pipeline with us. There's any number platforms out there that do this, and with solutions like BrightTag you can manage multiple platforms on a site. Regardless of whatever else Butler is selling, this one is completely true.

BB Hainsworth said...

I wasn't referring to the click part. Even a blind squirrel can find a nut! I take from this post that the author is referring to how dismal the results of this digiti world are. I simply am looking for these success stories or studies that the hipsters web gurus spew but never seem to produce yet will try to poke holes in a post that was addressing how unsuccessful online advertising is. And to state, "the limitations of small sample size studies and how generalising the conclusions of these studies across a wider population is flawed?" All I was asking was, "show me your proof"!

tkrockerz said...

Hey digi guys - how are you building in the awareness of old school media? For example, all those new Netflix subscribers probably saw the ad on regular TV first. Or maybe those people booking trips on Expedia or hotwire.com saw the ad on TV first. How do you know which message actually started the buying process? You don't! With so many messages hitting people all day really great creative is required to blast through the clutter. I have not seen any great digital creative so please help me out on this one.
Keep rockin' Bob!

Shanghai61 said...

My point exactly.

Digital claiming every sale can be tracked back to a click, (which may be true) and that therefore digital media drove the sale (almost certainly not true) is just the same as a sales promotion agency taking credit for every single unit sold in the period that their crummy promotion ran, and costing their ROI on that basis (I've had a couple try that one on with me - it didn't wash then and it doesn't wash now).

The assumption is that the brand wouldn't have sold a damn thing without the promo, or without the click ... it's a spurious argument.

But hey, whatever makes the numbers look better, huh?

MK said...

You must be a print buyer.

MK said...

Attribution modeling. Thats how. And the ability to look at analytics not available on other traditional mediums. Also, if you're using digital as a straight awareness medium, you're doing something wrong. Digital is an action based medium. You inadvertently allude to this in your response.

Also, I believe in the article the author states that only 1 out of 1,000 impressions gets clicks. But what kind of conversion rate is coming from traditional (aka your awareness medium)? And whats your cost per conversion?

CaliforniaGirl500 said...

Fun post and commentary today. You sure did ruffle a lot of feathers...digital feathers that is.

Your answers are a scream. Wish I could lay it on the line but I'm still employed. One of these days...

Ru said...

yeah but...how on earth are you gonna separate the two?!

Now I'm not sure about other people but we use digital platforms mainly as part of a larger campaign. In the same way that if we do pure print campaign, you would obviously co-orindate all adverts to support each other rather than work in a standalone fashion. Well that's the same with online clearly.

If you can't recognise that the two and not mutually exclusive then I have no idea why this blog even exists.

Ru said...

not all online is designed to be interactive to the point of sale or conversion. Some online is very much there for branding reasons. Doing the exact same thing that TV and radio and print ads are meant to do.

Also, your inability to take on any other opinions is quite depressing.

I think you have a pre disposed picture of what 'digital guys' are like. That we all hate print and TV and think that everything can be attributed to online. Which is not true. And that's something I thought you, as CEO of a large ad agency, would recognise.

Are you saying that people simply should not do any digital advertising? Why is there no middle ground? Does social media count as online advertising?
Also, we have solicitor clients who do no print and no TV advertising, yet have recently gained 2 clients directly from an Adwords campaign that has brought them in excess of £100k profit. Is that proof enough?

Ru said...

Also - building communities within niche interest sectors can be essential for some organisations.
Years ago I used to manage online communities for an independent record label when social media was just starting to take off. We used to completely sell out shows and launch parties months in advance because of the buzz and chat that we created solely through talking to people on social media. We knew this because we stopped doing flyer and traditional event promotion after the first one, after realising just how much interest could be drummed up just by getting into niche online communities.

The same goes for the likes of gaming and tech communities.

Do you class that as advertising? Because if not then I think all this beef on this entry is simply a matter of agreeing (or agreeing to disagree) what the term 'advertising' means.

CaliforniaGirl500 said...

Not sure if you mean me but, no, I've been in broadcast sales for years. Btw, the response below, from tkrockerz, is apt. Hard to know, these days, where the motivation originates.

Guest said...


well, just today my wife phoned me to check some bicycle online that her colleague told her about and she really fancies.

she asked me to go to the web page and make a purchase (she has second thoughts about paying online). since I have a big presentation coming up I told her I'm gonna make a purchase on Friday and promised her a cool bicycle trip on weekend.

can you please tell me how do you track the sale to her and marketing activities she was exposed to?

I'm all ears.

Guest said...

wait a minute...

are you comparing social media impact on niche segments vs TV? wow!

Ru said...

Wow! Did you even attempt to read what I said? Clearly you didn't because at no point am I comparing social media impact to TV. I'm stating that social media offers more than most people think when you are targeting highly niche markets. As that's something I have experience in. I can only speak from experience. People on this page have asked for examples where digital works. So I did. Just because it doesn't lead directly to a sale or a point of purchase immediately doesn't indicate that it's of no use to marketing/advertising/branding.
In any case, TV is nowhere near targeted enough to speak to the niche communities I'm talking about.

Would be nice for you to offer some (any) sort of insight at all rather than just offering a totally worthless bit of inflammatory commentary.

Bravo mate.

Guest said...

here's something of a value:

in your case you'd sell out shows and launch parties with traditional advertising as well. probably even faster.
what works/effectiveness relies on other attributes. and these attributes work EXACTLY THE SAME whether you talk to "highly niche markets" (which makes your claim about TV being "nowhere near targeted enough" completely irrelevant) or to mass audience.
of course, these attributes also fail exactly the same if not used correctly.

what you're saying is not a proof of digital's effectiveness. nor you're stating any advantage of digital whatsoever. your only point is just a matter of money, not strategic communication.

Butler said...

As I said, can you accept that digital advertising is more immediately and accurately measurable than traditional alternatives?

More is a relative term. I never said it was perfect. Few things are.

Want me to do an equivalent scenario for a TV advert? I promise it'll be short and sweet...

Ru said...

No it wouldn't. Do you not think we tried with the offline and traditional stuff?! Haha!

Are you deliberately not taking in any of my points? How is being able to spend less money to get the same results NOT a benefit?! That's a first in business!

Here's something of value: If we didn't use online and covered the same area then we would have to have used at least 20 times the personnel, taken at least twice as long to do it, and would had to have diverted resources from other absolutely essential parts of the business. So yes, if I'm working for a multi million business with spare money and resources to spunk up the wall then it's not much of an issue.

And also, in this point, you are utterly mistaken - in this case it's ONLY about strategic communication and not money. My point proves completely the ability for online platforms to cut straight into a niche community without being invasive. You can't do that with a television advert, no matter how targeted you get. There's no dialogue, there's no immersing yourself within the drivers of buzz - the passionate fans - I literally have no idea what point you are trying to make. Just to clarify, people are saying digital is of no use, and I'm saying it is. You're the one bringing up TV randomly for no reason.

You can't open an ongoing dialogue with a fan of underground hip hop using a television advert.

Oh hang on, what is 'other attributes' please do elaborate?! I've re-read your post many times over and it seems like you're not really saying anything of substance at all apart from the obvious fact that you disagree with me.

Art said...

Everything you suspected was not working on the web was. Except for banner ads... now that is truly distressing.

Terry said...

C'mon Ru, if you're the digital mastermind you claim to be then you can figure out why this blog exists...did you take the time to read some past posts? Like Bob, I'm always keen to see proof of online advertising "saving the world" and "changing everything" as it tends to claim. Do you have some of that proof?

Ru said...

All I see on this blog is people trying to get one up on each other.

At no point do I say that I am a 'digital mastermind' nor have I insinuated any claims that I am.

If you scroll down and read my posts I make quite clear, empirical evidence of social media working where other traditional methods were not suitable and/or did not give me the penetration I needed.

Contrary to what everyone else on here seems to be doing, I'm actually backing up everything I say with sound arguments. Whether or not you choose to take that in or dismiss it .

At no point have I ever said that digital 'saves the world' like you lot seem to be claiming. In fact if anything I am saying that digital works so much better when supporting or is supported by traditional methods.

So I ask you, did YOU take the time to read anything? Because it doesn't look like it

BB Hainsworth said...

While you are at the TV advert..still waiting for the essay!

order processing said...

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FMacK said...

You generalize to much.

First and foremost if you were at all a marketing professional you would know that online marketing is still in the experimental phase, and nothing is concrete yet.

1. Look at Harley Davidson build your own bike, or DELL personal computer building and tell me if interactive ads are really what you say they are. If you advertise through online forums i.e. youtube instead of having an ad pop up, sponsor a youtube channel that has the same demographics as your target market and have them designate time to announce their sponsors or have as part of the video, and a section on their websites that state your sponsorship with links to your website.

2. The fact that the younger generation is using computers instead of televisions means slowly over time TV will phase out and as generation after generation begins to accumulate further into the internet the more people will be viewing TV through the computer, which means the ads will become more affective. THAT BEING SAID statistically North America is about to retire, most people that are
retiring are less than informative in regards to using computers, which
means TV ratings are more than likely going to rise over the next 10-15
years. I give it 35 years before television is obsolete and is a screen with a Net Flix like template.

3. Permission marketing - It depends on your service, if you are marketing inexpensive goods at grocery stores to students / single mothers / young families you will probably get a response, where as if you are trying to sell a CD than you should rethink that strategy. Another thing is, more than likely they are asking permission to sell your email to a third party...

4. The conversation - Yah if you make shoes or TV's, or hockey sticks than yes it is stupid, if you are selling a computer, television, projectors than this is actually being employed as a tool to increase BUYER CONFIDENCE, where you can easily access a live conversation where you can gain information to help you fix your problems with your recent purchase, or to get the most out of your service.

5. Convergence - look at xbox, ps3, s video, HDMI NET FLIX ... All products that actually let you use your television to browse the internet and vice verse. EVERYONE THAT USES THE INTERNET TO WATCH TV, WATCHES TV FOR FREE. Integrate ads into the free content, on the free content websites.

Stephen Eichenbaum said...

My head is sore from nodding in agreement to every word on your blog.