The person working the cash register is a complement to the process of selling things to people. And that is all a media property can really be: a unique and engaging complement to a communication plan advertisers and their agencies have strategically established.
But back in the late '90s, at the height of our arrogance and immaturity, we were not interested in being a unique complement; we were taking over the world of advertising, remember? We brazenly told clients we had the answer to their quest for a return on their investment (ROI). Armed with "the answer," we talked fast, dressed casual, and told clients the train was leaving the station, and they had better jump on before they missed out.
It was at some point back then, somewhere in the Bay Area would be my guess, in some client's office, someone selling online confused our ability to measure an action with the ability to cause an action -- and the beast was born. This was a colossal mistake made with premeditated intentions. By claiming credit for delivering an action (versus measuring one) we as a medium were able to essentially secure more marketing dollars at a greater pace than a new medium should have earned. We bought into the hype we sold, and it served us well in the short term. But as a result, we never earned and acquired tangible value for anything beyond the actions we now promised clients. Fast-forward to today, and this struggle remains glaringly apparent.
What's worse is, we continue to repeat this mistake. All of the technical wizardry delivered by third-party developers, portals, ad networks, ad exchanges and the like are universally positioned by their respective sales forces as a way to improve the performance of a campaign -- as if somehow we alone control the minds and actions of consumers.
How obtuse and arrogant of us to think that by placing the right ad in front of the right person at the right time and at the right price, we are solely responsible for a consumer's decision to click, conduct a search, submit an email address or become a customer. Are we ever going to realize consumers' actions are based on a myriad of experiences with a brand's product or service, and we play a role -- not the entire hand?
This self-created direct-response pigeonhole we are stuck in can be traced back to our failure to learn how to patiently and tactfully position our medium as a unique and engaging complement to an overall media plan. And that's why the disparity between consumer time spent online and the dollars allocated by clients to online advertising exists. Not enough clients want to work with us or understand how to, and our reaction is, "they don't get it" -- when in fact, we don't "get" them.
Is it too late for us to start acting as if we can see the whole picture and where we fit in? Is it too late for us to start using common words and phrases our clients understand, versus expecting them to learn our language?
Imagine if we could manage to do that? More clients would likely enjoy talking further with us, would understand us better, and might want to see the value we deliver beyond the spreadsheet. If we stopped acting like everything we invent is the answer and instead presented our innovations as unique complements, clients would spend more money with us without feeling like they have a train to catch.