A Dose of Reality

We have industry journalists writing articles saying “banners” are meaningless and the clicks they elicit mean even less.  We have industry pundits putting their weight behind attribution models and native advertising solutions in an attempt to move away from performance metrics and closer toward the ad brand dollars that have escaped us. 

Then we have the programmatic marketplace promoting greater performance through sophisticated audience targeting. Then, of course, there is Google, a company that earns a whole bunch of money selling ads, based on clicks.

It’s official: online advertising is schizophrenic.  We are 19 years old and we don’t know who we are. 

A close friend named Marc, whom I first met when I was 19, is a lifetime truck driver -- a no-nonsense workingman from Brooklyn.  When Marc talks about people disconnected from what’s really going on “in da streets” he often says, “They need a dose of reality.” 

So here are five doses of reality about selling online advertising:

1.  We don’t sell banners

Banners are a 468x60 ad unit, and we don’t sell them.  We sell display ad units of various sizes, much the way outdoor companies sell display billboards, television networks sell display commercials, and magazines sell display ad pages.

We sell these display ad units as part of packages that include more innovative marketing aspects like offline events (pop up stores), entertainment venues where advertisers can host their key distributors or customers, online promotions that drive name acquisition - the list goes on and on.  These components are designed to solve a marketing problem that advertiser is experiencing.

Now here is the dose of reality: We include these display impressions because they add communication value (provided they are viewable and seen on sites with obvious content standards), and it’s the easiest way for advertisers to pay for the value created by the non-impression based components of the packages we create. 

Writing that the “banner” should be killed off from online advertising is disconnected from how business gets done.

2.  Everything starts with clicks

It’s ironic that the same journalist who insisted clicks are meaningless tweeted that his article had been shared over 6,500 times. Doesn’t it take a click to share an article?  So are the click rates on content lower or higher than click rates on ads?

Regardless, here is the dose of reality on clicks: Everything consumers do online starts with a click.  They click to open their browser, they click to sign in and out of sites with registration, they click on links on site nav bars, they click on stories, they click to play music or videos, they click to open and send emails, they click to buy, click to pin, tweet, and like.  Everything starts with a click, so removing clicks from the conversation about ads is ridiculous.  We can certainly add metrics that complement and overshadow advertising click activity at some point, but to just wave our hands like mad men and tell clients clicks on their ads don’t matter to them is futile.

3.  Native advertising is bullshit

Ever watch the award ceremony after a major golf or tennis sporting event? Before the winner is handed her trophy and check, the “sponsor” is handed the microphone to say a few words that no one in the live or television audience listens to.  That’s “native advertising.” Consumers smell it immediately, and just hold their breath until it passes so they can hear what they came to listen to.

Here is a dose of reality: A sponsored generated post or other forms of advertiser site integration serves the self-centered desires of the advertiser.  So publishers will keep selling them knowing their audience will keep ignoring them.  Once in a blue moon, one hits, but 98% of the time these executions generate so few “impressions” publishers have to throw in more “banner” impressions to make up for the shortfall.

4.  You can’t be a little bit pregnant

Our split personality is never more clearly on display than when so many premium publishers not named Turner or USA Today make their inventory available on ad exchanges alongside their direct sales team’s efforts.  It’s fashionable to say “we do both well,” but that’s not possible, because of the conflict correlation between both approaches. 

So here is a dose of reality: If you are going to accept checks from third-party sales of your inventory, don’t pretend it’s not making the job of your direct sales team harder.  If you can still sleep at night knowing you are making it harder to walk in their shoes, have at it -- but stop sweeping the consequences under the rug.

5.  Who we really are

We’re not a pure direct-response medium – our content quality and integrity is far richer than a direct-mail piece or an infomercial.  We are not a branding medium, either.  We don’t have the consumer’s undivided attention on a per-visit basis long enough to brand anything.

What we are is the greatest promotional medium of all time.  We can consistently cume a massive audience in the shortest period of time better than any other medium.  We can target promotions with far more precision, and collect and transfer the interest consumers have in whatever the advertiser is promoting, better than any other medium.

If we were surer of who we really are, clients would be surer of how to best use us, and our dollars would grow, unencumbered by the questions we battle now.  Until that happens, we will continue to battle our own demons -- and scare dollars away.

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4 comments about "A Dose of Reality".
  1. Ron Stitt from Fox Television Stations , April 4, 2013 at 1:54 p.m.
    Great post! You going for the record on bubbles burst in a single post? Thanks Ari.
  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , April 4, 2013 at 2:23 p.m.
    Standing ovation. Clap Clap Clap !!!!!!!
  3. Mike Einstein from the Brothers Einstein , April 4, 2013 at 7:19 p.m.
    Got the demons part right. Problem is, we need to consider some sage advice from my namesake who said: "No problem can be solved from the same consciousness that created it." Or, as Admiral Perry would say: "We have met the enemy, and they are us."
  4. Pete Austin from Triggered Messaging , April 5, 2013 at 7:19 a.m.
    @Mike Einstein: Actually Walt Kelly. http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Walt_Kelly