When Will We Deliver On The Promise?
However, as well as the online ad market is generally developing, we also need to remain acutely aware of the many areas where we are not doing a very good job. That's the reminder that I got loud and clear earlier this week responding to an audience question while participating on a panel at the DLD (Digital, Life, Design) conference in Munich, a thought-provoking gathering of folks involved in digital media, design and the arts that was a stopover for many of the folks headed to Davos and the World Economic Forum later in the week.
The multipart question was: When will the online advertising industry actually deliver on its outstanding promise of the last decade to present the right ad to the right person at the right time? When will we finally deliver a consumer experience where the vast majority of ads that we deliver are meaningful, and not junk and clutter on Web pages?
The questioner was someone who knows something about the consumer's online experience -- Walt Mossberg, personal technology columnist for The Wall Street Journal. His point was that the online ad industry is always touting its extraordinary technical capabilities to target relevant ads -- a point that I had just been emphasizing -- but from his perspective, we are still giving consumers a terrible experience when it comes to the vast majority of ads that we place on their Web pages.
It doesn't take much research to recognize that he is right. You could ask almost anyone you know who surfs the Web whether or not they think that the Web ads they see are relevant, or you could look at the research that's been done in this area. According to a 2005 Roper Public Affairs study, only 21% of people said that advertising adds to their enjoyment of the Internet, versus 47% for magazines and 47% for newspapers. Whether we want to believe it or not, we have to accept the implied criticism as valid. Consider:
I am confident that we will resolve these issues. To put things in perspective, we as an industry were almost left for dead only five years ago. Only three years ago, you couldn't use the word "optimistic" to describe how most folks in the industry felt. We've come a long way since then. And I think that several key trends over the next few years will bring solutions to these problems.
When will we get to the point that consumers will find online ads as enjoyable as magazine advertising? I believe that this may happen as soon as the end of 2008. Why? Because I see so much progress going on behind the scenes in the core organization and processes of how we plan, create, deliver, measure and optimize online media and advertising; I see so much new competition coming into this space; and, most important, I see so much focus now on the consumer experience, that I am confident that this will happen more quickly than most would probably expect.