IAB Readies Push To Combat Online's 'Creative Shabbiness'

The Interactive Advertising Bureau is preparing a major push to promote the "creative" potential for online as an advertising medium, IAB chief Randall Rothenberg told a group of Wall Street analyst and investors Monday.

"Not enough attention is being paid to great creative and the long-term impact on a brand and consumer engagement with great creative," Rothenberg said during J.P. Morgan's "Advertising/Marketing Virtual Summit," a conference call featuring outlooks from the heads of the top advertising-related media trade associations, including the IAB.

Rothenberg said the push, which would be described in greater detail during the IAB's annual conference Feb. 22-24 in Orlando, was an effort to overcome perceptions of "creative shabbiness" in online media, and to help prevent the slide toward a "performance-based" Internet advertising economy.

While so-called performance-based approaches such as search and click-based and lead-generation based advertising models have helped sustain online media's growth, Rothenberg indicated that it was time for online publishers to reclaim some of the premium advertising turf vs. general market media, especially network television.

The challenge, he said, was entrenched perceptions inside big advertising agencies that online is not a creative medium, as well as their dependence on so-called "reach and frequency" media planning principles.

"I think media mix modeling is still in the dark ages," he charged, adding, "We tend to look and judge everything in the brand field on the basis of reach and frequency."

He said that might have been right for an era of mass media and passive media consumers, but he said that media planning doctrine no longer fits the way people actually use media today.

"It doesn't do a very good job of helping you plan or helping you assess a social media campaign," he said, equating reach and frequency planning as appropriate for a "white noise" medium like television, but not right for an "engaged medium" such as online, where "the audience requests everything."

As a result, he says online has been painted with a "direct response" brush, which has a strong ROI and effectiveness component that is good in the current weak economy, because marketers tend to shift "above-the-line" traditional advertising campaigns into "below-the-line" marketing initiatives such as direct response, but it does little to elevate the perception of online's premium communications value.

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3 comments about "IAB Readies Push To Combat Online's 'Creative Shabbiness'".
  1. Susan Kim from advertising.com , January 27, 2009 at 10:25 a.m.

    I am not buying Rothenberg's premise that performance advertising means the online ads will be creatively shabby. There are some really strong performance ads that are equally strong creatively/aesthetically. In fact, one of the reasons they perform so well is that they are so engaging with the users. I know because I am the creative director at platform-a and my team produces ads with some of the highest click-thru rates in the industry and none of them are contributing to the "creative shabbiness" Rothenberg describes. We do a lot of branding advertising, also, and I can tell you that not one client was ever upset by the fact that it performed well by getting a ton of clicks.

  2. Randall Rothenberg from Interactive Advertising Bureau , January 27, 2009 at 5:15 p.m.

    I think this is a vital debate, and I am thrilled that Susan Kim of IAB member company Advertising.com has joined it. Obviously, she's right: there ARE "some really strong performance ads that are equally strong creatively/aesthetically" -- one need only look at the history of American Express advertising to prove that. But even direct mailers will say that aesthetically-pleasing creative, designed to build and reinforcement such well-established, long-term brand-uplifting effects as "likeability," are not native to the direct response business -- they are more the exception than the rule in a marketing-services segment that prizes today's response to today's offer over long-term brand lift. This isn't a criticism, but a reflection of the way the marketing mix is supposed to work, and has worked for decades.

    I wrote about this a fair amount in my younger days. Here's one piece, on Publisher's Clearing House, which discusses the lack of "why" research in DR to buttress the overwhelming amount of "what" research:
    http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=950DE6D9143CF932A05752C0A96F948260&sec=&spon=&&scp=1&sq=rothenberg%20publishers%20clearinghouse&st=cse

    And here's another piece, a profile of one of the greatest direct mail writers in American history, which discusses the dominance of the "control" mentality:
    http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C0CE4DC1531F936A3575BC0A966958260&sec=&spon=&&scp=1&sq=rothenberg%20jayme&st=cse

    My argument -- one I hope the entire interactive industry reacts to and improves -- is that interactive must merge the traditions of great creative and great accountability. It's beginning to happen. The new Ad Council campaign against teen dating abuse, featured in today's New York Times and crafted by RG/A, was met with enthusiastic applause at the most recent Ad Council board meeting. And the chatter generated in the industry by the PC/Mac online effort for its clever breaking of the banner barrier shows that there's hunger for interactive advertising to be both famous AND successful.

    I'll write more about it -- and Susan, you can help show us the way!!

  3. John Grono from GAP Research , January 27, 2009 at 6:13 p.m.

    While I wholeheartedy concur with the comments regarding creative quality, I am mystified by the comments regarding R&F planning.

    R&F planning is media agnostic. It is based around human communication - how people receive messages. It is not based around the technicalities of the infrastructure that the message was delivered through. R&F planning asks the simple question - how many and how often? Why - efficiency and effectiveness ... reduce wastage in broad communications plans. This is STILL the doctrine of how people use media.

    This is of course NOT to say that all media are created equal - clearly they are not. But in terms of strategic communications planning R&F planning is the bedrock. The ideal situation would be to have 'factors' (I hesitate to use the term 'engagement' factor as markters really want how THEIR brand engages - not the medium) that put all the media audience measurement currencies on the same footing so that cross-media planning was improved - at the moment there is too much 'gut feel' involved.

    Regarding the issue of "white noise" media (i.e. television), well they sure have done a pretty good job of building the biggest global brands in history. But all of a sudden 'pundits' are saying they are virtually worthless now in the digital age. When I see a global brand built entirely in the digital realm I will be more convinced. What I am convinced of is that digital is a genuinely strong (though poorly measured) tool in the communications and marketing armoury, and anyone who does not include it is crazy. But to marginalise all other 'traditional' media is beyond crazy - after all, someone has to "fill the funnel of fulfillment".

    One further comment on "white noise". Never underestimate the power of the human brain and memory. While the conscious brain is said to be able to hold 7 (+/-2) conurrent thoughts, the sub-conscious brain is virtually unlimited. Due to the limbic nature of the sub-conscious brain it is virtually impossible to block those "white noise" ads. Yes, deep down in those people's collective memories - in the non-verbal part of the brain that researchers don't or can't plumb - those ads have made an impression. When they head out to do their shopping or whatever, the limbic brain pushes those memories to the conscious (rational) brain ... lo and behold ... we call that engagement.

    Anyway, just food for thought - sorry it's a ramble across various fronts.

    John Grono
    GAP Research
    Sydney Australia