So where's the value in advertising? In 2008, the average internet user was spending 53 minutes per week reading news online, up from 41 minutes per week in 2007. The same study found 22 percent of users said they stopped their subscription to a printed newspaper or magazine because they could access the same content online (USC Annenberg School Center for the Digital Future, 2009). Even with this dramatic shift from offline to online, of the $186.9 billion spent on getting the rest of the world to buy or use our goods and services in 2008, only $23.4 billion of it was used for online campaigns (Interactive Advertising Bureau, 2009). In other words, roughly 87% of the advertising dollars out there still went to those old stalwarts: print, broadcast and outdoor. The opposing perspective would like you to focus on having snatched up nearly 15% of the pie in the roughly fifteen or so years we've been at it. While that's impressive, if we look closer, we learn a dirty secret: when it comes to display, we're doing it with little squares and rectangles.
This secret becomes more illuminated when we factor in the total spend on various online formats like search, email, classifieds, lead generation and others totaling $17 billion (Interactive Advertising Bureau, 2009). All told, this means only 3% of the ad dollars spent in '08 went to display advertising. I guess the answer to my initial question then, as it pertains to display, is 3%. That's the value of online display advertising. Amidst all our focus on pre-roll, behavioral targeting, geo-targeting, local and national planning, audience tracking, ad networks, clicks, conversions, acquisitions and whatever the term du jour is, we all took our eye off the ball and stopped doing what it was that got us here to begin with: innovating.
Yes, I'm aware we've got rectangles that expand, sync, talk to each other and share a message or even a video. We have banners that float over a page, take over a page or interrupt a page, and we even have creative that becomes the page. All of these things are exciting and cool, but how are they contributing to the value of display? Rich media added up to no more than 7% of online spending in 2008 (Interactive Advertising Bureau, 2009), and while that number will increase in 2009 and beyond, will it level the playing field between banner ads and those old school and ineffective outlets such as print, broadcast and outdoor? Probably not.
Old school and ineffective. They're not though, right? They're actually terrific mediums that offer a valuable outlet for advertising and, in some cases, even touch people. Television commercials are 30-second films, and done well, they can move a product, spark a conversation and, in recent years, even jump start the career of an up and coming director or musical artist. Double and full page print ads and billboards remain the premier medium for captivating photography, typography and copy writing. In all three cases, they should be since we haven't come up with anything as good or better. So, from a Creative Director's standpoint, here's how I see it. We've got this great new medium. Let's start using it to its full advantage. Little rectangles and squares, many of which appear on the same page at the same time all vying for audience attention, are never going to compete on value with television commercials and large, splashy print and outdoor advertisements.
I know the banners of today aren't the best we have to offer. Recently, as a result of our economic climate and the need for advertisers to get the most from their dollars, I've seen individual publishers introduce units that push the current definition of banner by perhaps being a little larger or more attention grabbing. Apple took advantage of this with an original execution for the iPod Touch on Yahoo, which integrated video and broke beyond the banner space. While a firm step in the right direction, I don't think we'll be there until we figure out how to offer and implement advertising that is well integrated into a publisher's scheme, has major presence, and does not compete with other real estate for attention. A few weeks ago, Rupert Murdoch outspokenly said "People are used to reading everything on the net for free, and that's going to have to change", alluding to perhaps having to pay for our content in the future. Mr. Murdoch, I'd argue we have been paying for it, in cluttered pages, blinking banners, and years of forgettable advertising. Let's give our readers something better.
What do you think?