What Is The Scope Of Interactive Advertising?

One of my oft-repeated issues is the concept that our industry has the tendency to overcomplicate itself. Over the last few weeks I have been working with a number of peers to find more efficient forms of structure and organization in the agency environment in an effort to increase overall efficiency and one of the issues that we came across was that it's hard to develop a clear structure to service an industry that is ever expanding and hasn't yet realized the scope of its own responsibilities.

As our industry continues its path of growth, we are forced to address the fact that our own inefficiencies come from two primary sources. First, we are unable to clearly define what our roles should be in the new landscape of advertising. Second, we are consistently forced to rethink what we do from external forces and are unable to truly think ahead because we rarely get the time to take a deep breath.

The first issue is hard because it seems that all media is becoming more and more "interactive". Interactivity is definitely the means by which advertisers are combating clutter and the increasing tendency for consumers to tune out advertising. Asking a consumer to pay attention and take note is no longer as effective as it once was. Instead advertisers are asking consumers to participate and react to advertising. This seems to be effective as more media is incorporating these fundamental elements. As all media becomes more interactive, and therefore more accountable, the overall inefficiencies that we in the online space have been dealing with for the last few years become more pervasive and decrease the traditional margins that have been well understood for years in more traditional forms of advertising. This inefficiency from the agency side of the business as well as on the client side is a source of pain, discomfort, unease, or whatever other issues that many companies have experienced over those same last few years. Many agencies failed in the past because they could not find that balance between effective service levels and adequate revenue. As the scope of what we consider to be "interactive" increases, this issue grows to include many more than your old-fashioned "interactive" agencies and affects Madison Ave. more than many would have thought.



The second issue is our continued inability to focus on the future as an industry. We are still reactive to what others think and we are still paying too much attention to the past and not enough on the future. Many conferences and industry events still focus on what we have done in the past and not enough on what is coming down the pike. I am overly critical sometimes, especially of myself, but I'm a culprit in this as well. I recently sat with Karim Sanjabi, who handles the merging of creative with technology within my company, and he started discussing over 35 new ad technologies that he has been researching that offer new and exciting ways to speak to a consumer. For once, not all of these technologies were reiterations of things you could do with Flash. These technologies were actually unique ideas that served to increase the interactivity between the consumer and the company. They were not relegated to the world of the ad unit either; they were truly heading down the path of marketing in a different manner, whether they be online, desktop related, PVR-related or what-have-you. These are things that I rarely take the time to consider, much less write about, but this little epiphany is something that I found exciting enough to kick-start me thinking about some ideas for the future. Of course the question comes up as the lines blur of whether these are online or offline ideas, but his stance is that we take these ideas and work on them and start to force the integration issue more than in the past.

So what does this all mean, you might ask?

I can't completely answer this question for you, but I can start to give you an idea of where these two issues are taking me. I think that our industry needs to start networking once again. I think that our industry needs to start planning ahead and (gulp - buzzword) integrating with traditional media formats much more closely. Our industry events and conferences must start to expand to be cross-media more often and less often focused inwards on ourselves. Our ideas are not being developed in a vacuum. The consumer does not make a distinction between media formats, so why should we?

I also think that the issue of inefficiencies and scope of responsibility will need to be addressed quickly. As all media becomes more interactive, all types of agencies and marketing organizations are going to need to find the balance between accountability and reactivity. We need to start laying out some education and standardization for decision making and testing. For example, what is the sample size requirement for testing online advertising (either graphical or search-based)? What are acceptable time periods for acquiring these sample sizes to make a decision? What are industry norms for ROI analysis and what types of ROI do cross-media campaigns see vs. single-format campaigns?

These are questions that we ask every day, and our clients ask every day, but we are not pushing ourselves down the correct path to truly answer them. We need to answer these types of questions while we are seeing ad spending increase. If we don't, then all we are doing is starting to inflate the bubble once again and I for one would really rather avoid any more bursting. I don't think I could take it again.

What do you think?

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