How About a Little Revolution in Display Advertising?

I'm taking a page from James Carville's handbook to make a point that feels too often overlooked in these turbulent economic waters. Guess what? "It's the value, stupid!"

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?

6 comments about "How About a Little Revolution in Display Advertising?".
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  1. Kathryn Koegel from Primary Impact, May 19, 2009 at 8:26 a.m.

    Glad that you concluded that clutter is a big part of the problem -- how you effectively measure is another. With online display, we have overlooked "media 101" issues like clutter, audience cume of a site, creative testing -- even a basic like agreed measurement standards that account for exposure as well as response. All these issues are addressed in a whitepaper with comScore, Dynamic Logic, Nielsen and Microsoft Atlas data. It is located at:

  2. Mitch Anthony from titanium, May 19, 2009 at 9:57 a.m.

    I think about this every time I see a great ad. As to how to innovate around this question, I'm stuck at context. People watch TV. They read magazines. They surf the web.

    The challenge we face is one of context. How do you engage someone when their primary objective is to get in, find what they want, and get out?

    The medium is the message, and this message is about less, not more.

    Sign me, stymied in Adland.

  3. Leyla Arsan from Lotus Marketing, May 19, 2009 at noon

    When I think of "old school" advertising, I can think of a TV spot or a print advertisment that has touched me on an emotional level in some way. Maybe it made me laugh, maybe it was my dad's favorite spot, maybe it reminds me of something from my childhood. This emotional connection may or may not have caused me to purchase the product, but at the very least, it left me with a strong enough impression where I retained the brand message.

    I have yet to recall a SINGLE banner ad. I can recall the many things I've shouted at my computer as the banner ads keep my page from loading properly.

    I'd like to see some online advertising, squares, rectangles or rich media banner ads that speak to me in the way that a spot or print ad (and in very limited cases a piece of direct mail) has been able to do.

    As for the "term du jour" isn't just silly? I cannot seem to keep up!

  4. John Grono from GAP Research, May 19, 2009 at 8:13 p.m.

    There is a delicious irony in Martin's excellent post. Why are TV ads so effective and online displat isn't? I think the reason is touched-on in the article. The internet is an instantaneous medium, while traditional media are not.

    When you grab a magazine you know that around a quarter of it will be ads and there will be reams of FPC ads up the front of the magazine. You still sit down and flick through the magazine, because you're there for a good read (ads and all). A good ad will catch your eye and it ads to the magazine experience, and basically, the fact that they collectively chewed up a minute or two of your reading time is not an imposition.

    When you watch a TV programme you know that around a quarter of your hour-long programme will be ads - that's how you get it for free. Again, a good ad will catch your eye, you may have a good chuckle at it, and you might even buy the product. While a block of ads can be annoying (or a good chance for a toilet-break or to make a cuppa), you still know that when you started watching the programme that it wouldn't be finishing until the hour was up (leaving aside the DVR issue).

    In the case of TV the ad becomes the medium (it takes up the whole screen), and in a majority of magazines the ad is a FPC, so again the ad becomes the medium.

    When you log in to the Internet and your home page comes up, one of two things happen. You either get your home page content with a display ad box to the side - generally flashing or animated, saying "read me, read me" - or an ad takes over the whole or the majority of the screen screaming at me "You'd better read me because I'm hiding the content you came here to see, and don't bother looking for the close button, because it's in 4-point and the same colour as its background".

    In essence, to be noticed on-line advertising appears to be coming the most annoying and intrusive advertising, and most importantly, when the consumers mindset is instantaneous gratification. They're not on this page for an hour (the TV and magazine 'contract') and they don't want to waste their time being forced to sit through an ad - they want to get on with it and read their home page, click on a Favourite, or do a search - they very reason they went online in the first place.

    What price a consumer's time in an instantaneous medium? My guess it is pretty high, and impinging on it may not only be ineffective, but may actually build consumer resentment.

  5. Ben Stein from ContextIn, May 20, 2009 at 4:11 a.m.

    I think the display ads will have to become more targeted and more performance-based in order to address the needs of the current markets (but here I'm probably have personal interest as part of ContextIn...)

    I also agree with Kathryn regarding the needs of measurement standard - it becomes more and more important these days.

  6. Langston Richardson from Cisco, May 22, 2009 at 6:24 p.m.

    "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."

    Well said. The web isn't a closed kingdom of corporate world where the hubris of having near absolute control over the functioning of a company can be translated into the behavior modification of millions of people who will never allow for the web to be anything but free. Brands are learning the the cost of free is the cost of entry into the game of digital advertising. Produce content that's worth it... the audiences will be there... and we as brand consultants will need to help brand marketers to help align those companies with the real needs of the target customer and not just a juiced up unsustainable campaign derived jump due to a banner ad. The value of display advertising or banner ads will be of connecting me to useful content that makes sense to me. Thats the value of creativity. Not a formula one-size fits all that no longer works well in any media but finally using all of those metrics and data brand teams pay for and actually being creative with the solution derived.

    Twitter: @MATSNL65

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