It Ain't Over, or, We Are the Future and the Future is Now!

Well, folks, we did it. We’ve made it through another year of challenges and have survived intact, if a bit worn around the edges. But, hey, some of my most comfortable clothes are worn around the edges. Chances are that if you are reading this, you’ve made it through 2002 and you are the better for it.

You and your companies have demonstrated their commitment to this industry and a belief that the Interactive advertising space is meaningful.

Most of the people reading this came to the online advertising/digital marketing industry just as it was becoming the biggest, baddest, hippest new thing since Kurt Cobain taught the world it was okay to wear flannel. Others of you were knee-deep in it before even that, as the first light of daybreak fell across your desktops where Mosaic 1.0 was running. And there might even be a handful of you who were trying to figure out how to get your clients’ messages on Prodigy before even that.

In the scheme of things, however, that was all a long time ago. Even the days of the disco-ball haze and dazzling ice-sculpture parties of 1999 were a lifetime ago. Most of the people who came to this business then are no longer among us. Some got burned, some dropped out, some got rich, and some found God. One I know even found aliens from outer space.



And the money that was flowing… well, I don’t need to tell any of you that that’s evaporated like a bottle of Everclear broken on the tile floor of a dormitory bathroom at Arizona State.

So, let me ask you all: Is the Internet, as a fiscally viable advertising medium and a crucible for innovation in mass marketing communications, come to a terminus? Given the effort traditional media channels have made in convincing the world at large that online advertising is a farce – The Wall Street Journal comes most readily to mind – could it be that they are right, and it is time for the whole darn thing to just go away?

If you are reading this, than chances are, no, you do not think that.

What the question implies are actually two things: 1) will we ever return to the well-moneyed days of yore and reemerge into the light of a positive press and the open arms of traditional business leaders? And 2) is the medium now done, wholly baked, and complete in its form?

I hate to be the one to break it to you all, but, no, we will not be high-diving into pools of money like Scrooge McDuck any time soon. Whenever I hear people bemoan the absence of limitless spending and nosebleed stock prices, I want to scream. Every time I read an article in the newspaper about how an internet concern’s stock is trading at 4-gazillion percent below it’s high of Fall, 1999, I want to throw my Ask Jeeves bobble head across the room and smash my Flycast coffee mugs.

These are the kinds of comparisons that serve to accentuate the aberrant and create the misty illusion that what is good is now bad and what was bad was better.

Look, I’m nostalgic, too. I miss the days when I could drink like Charles Bukowski while being served all-you-can-eat sushi at Bimbos 365 in San Francisco, or have my picture taken with Michael Tchong and RuPaul at the China Club in Manhattan, but try to remember that it was a time when conditions were ripe for all sorts of strange forms of life to thrive.

It was a Paleozoic Era when all manner of fish and plant life, insects and reptiles first appeared and could flourish. But the time when dragonflies with 2-foot wingspans and 3-headed monsters could live off the fat of the land is over. Nor is it any longer possible for a CEO with a vestigial tail and a vehicle powered by his own sense of self-satisfaction to enter a room without being asked about his peculiarity.

That time has passed. We must now make way for the future. And that future is now.

Provided the medium continues to demonstrate value, advertisers will warm up. And they are warming up. Whether or not they will spend at the levels some people working in this industry hope for isn’t the real issue. The real issue is whether or not this medium works to accomplish the goals of an advertiser. It can; it does. Now it is just a matter of getting that communicated properly.

And the press will catch the wave again, too, though coverage will likely be far more circumspect. There was an unspoken anger out there among the average consumer when it came to things relating to the Web. So many people were made to feel like Luddites if they weren't participating in the phenomenon and stupid if they weren't getting rich off of it. As always, the press has only been giving the people what they wanted.

The future is going to be one of press covering the advertising business. Not just the INTERNET advertising business.

As for whether or not there is more to be done in this biz… sure, there is. The bulk of the trial-and-error that filled our 12-hour days working in online advertising is at an end, but there is still plenty to do.

There is a great deal of perfecting that needs to be done, but the engines have been designed and tested and the basic structure of the chassis agreed upon. Now it is time to add glove boxes, seat belts, air bags, and rear window defrosters. There is still a need for tightening up formats and platforms. We need to better understand just what it means to market to an audience of individuals rather than simply blocks of demographics. Work remains to be done on the refinement of database marketing tools and techniques. And as a marketing tool, it remains to be seen just what is going to be effective on a long-term basis, but the general shape of the medium has been set.

If those who have the most to gain from the success of this media simply set out to prove that what we have here is worthwhile, everything else will fall into place.

Yes, the future is so bright I have to wear shades.

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