Turn The Beat Around
It was the concept expressed above that made us do it. We just couldn't help ourselves. The Web was upon us and we felt compelled to add it to the arsenal of media advertisers have at their disposal to execute on their marketing and business objectives.
But how to use it? It was a medium that held the promise of yielding more data than any medium before it. There was the potential for me to learn more about you, the potential consumer, than I was ever able to learn before. By learning your likes and dislikes directly from your engagement of different kinds of content, as an advertiser I could begin to develop, or so it seemed, true one-to-one relationships with consumers.
Learning what one did with the medium wasn't all, however. I could also find out what you were doing with my brand. How did you respond to my value proposition? Did you like it? Dislike it? Fall for it hook, line, and sinker and buy into it?
All of this data and so much more was suddenly available from a medium we'd never dreamed of just a few years before '95-'96.
So, here was this cool new medium. How do we convince advertisers to take a chance on it? There was no research that talks to the medium's effectiveness. There were no figures that addressed size of universe or time spent with it. Barely a droplet of data that could point out what places on the web most folks were likely to spend their time. And to top it all off, it was new. Let's face it; marketers spending large sums of money trying to make even larger sums of money are not interested in doing things that are new.
"Well, it's kind of like TV!," the industry tried to say. But it wasn't (nor is it still). No moving pictures, a small creative canvas, and nothing that resembled reach as the traditional world understands it.
"Well, it's kind of like Print," we proffered. But again, the canvas is smaller, and if it's like print, why not just do print?
"Well, it's kind of like outdoor," I heard someone say once. Creative with little copy flying by quickly as one clicked forth to their destination.
No one accepted that it was like any of these things. And, in essence, it isn't (yet, in some ways, it is, which I'll address in a moment).
So it was that we glommed onto the most obvious killer application this new media has and thrust onto the world what was thought to be the pantheon of accountability and performance: the click-through rate.
Since then the industry has moved to a madhouse marketplace of pay-for-performance and $1 CPMs. By fixing on raw accountability we inadvertently created a sort of Frankenstein auxiliary sales channel rather than a viable medium that has value as a marketing tool beyond that of simply being a conduit for moving product. We painted the Web into a direct response corner and have now had to wait for the paint to dry before getting out of it.
That isn't to say there isn't a place for per-inquiry and/or direct response advertising and the like. All of the other media allow for it and price accordingly. But it isn't ALL they do. Advertisers realize that there is merit to making their value propositions in a variety of environments at a variety of times in order to create the overall long-term effect of branding and, the ultimate goal, the sale of their products and services. There is no reason to believe that the web can't provide for the same.
I think we got all of this backwards in the beginning. We started off promoting the Web as an accountable tool to such an extent that we ended up with what we have today: the land of cheap CPMs, CPCs, and cost-per-action. Solid content providers with real audience are being forced out of business because the integrity of their CPMs cannot be preserved.
Granted, some of those with dreams of avarice priced themselves too high at the beginning, but the kind of something-for-nothing pricing schemes that have become the norm are not what can sustain this business. The Internet advertising arena became over-populated with arrogant and immature marketers asking for $.35 CPMs "or we're going to walk!" None of these marketers realizing that they are ultimately cutting the branch upon which they sit away from the tree out of which the branch grows.
What we should have done was make the argument that content environments on the Web are like print environments. Except that a reader can actually talk back to the vehicle in this medium, and I can learn all kinds of things about the readers at no extra cost. It would be like having ads in a magazine and getting BRCs (Business Reply Cards) or attitude studies for free. Creative units should have been accommodated that would have remained on-page for the duration of a user's engagement of that specific page rather than this constant rotation that ratchets up larger impression counts in the hopes of creating more saleable inventory. Then, as time progressed, we made room for pay-for-performance and direct response advertising using the appropriate contexts and the appropriate inventory.
Instead, we find ourselves fighting a backwards, uphill battle trying to convince advertisers that it isn't all about CPC and that CPMs on some sites might be worth it given the audience and quality of content.
Yes, maybe that would have meant that the Web would have grown more slowly on the publisher side as different concepts in content on the Web were tested against interest and potential fiscal viability. But most magazines take around 3 years to become profitable. Would moving a bit slower really have been such a bad thing? Or do we like the mass layoffs, stock-price freefalls, and tons of bad press that currently plague this business? Certainly hindsight is 20/20.
But now that we can see more clearly, isn't it time to take advantage of good vision?
- Jim Meskauskas is Chief Internet Strategist at Mediasmith, a San Francisco and New York based Integrated Interactive Media Agency and Consultant. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.