As an industry, if we took an honest look in the mirror, we would see a clearer picture of who we really are, complete with the structural flaws we mask with these inflated figures. Let’s pull the curtains open on this smoke-and-mirrors total spending show, and see what we really have.
First off, one company contributes to half of the total industry billings we report. If Ford generated 50% of all auto sales, wouldn’t the release of “total car sales” feel like a Ford press release? We have to put Google’s revenue somewhere, but calling ourselves a $42.8 billion collective “industry” comes with one gigantic wink when half of these reported dollars come from one bank account.
A more significant reason why this reported total feels misleading, however, is that 65% of this spend is pure direct marketing -- which I get is a “form of advertising,” but we continue to talk out of both sides of our mouths. As an industry, we constantly clamor to be recognized as a medium that creates branding and awareness, and we talk endlessly at conferences that the “click” poorly defines our value -- yet we happily report an industry spend total including almost $28 billion that doesn’t get collected unless someone clicks on an ad.
By my count, that leaves us at a $15 billion “advertisers paying for ads to be seen online” business, and things start to crumble further from there. Conservatively, 50% of these ads we sell to advertisers never get seen by people. So phantom dollars for phantom ads are part of this reported total as well. If you discount those dollars, it leaves us at a legitimate $7.5 billion “pure advertising” business online.
If we can just own up to this figure, we can rally behind a strategy on how to grow this kind of advertising business from $7.5 billion to a $40 billion-plus business. This goal is an achievable one -- but to get there, we would have to do the opposite of what is being done now.
To increase this kind of advertising spend online, we would have to increase the value of the exposure that occurs, sell more if it, and then raise prices. So instead of running a thrift shop for ads, we need to start acting like a Neiman Marcus.
Right now, we have too many ads being served on one single page view. Right now, we serve ad executions (pre-rolls, pop-ups, exapandables, auto-plays, etc) that literally, not figuratively, infuriate consumers. Right now we welcome ad creative so awful it’s hard to look at. Right now, we are killing the value of an ad’s exposure, not improving it.
And that’s my point. We publicly gloat about the overall spending figures we “can report,” trying to convince everyone how great we are doing, when in fact we are imploding. If we continue to report these total dollars spent without being more honest with ourselves about how and why these dollars come our way, then none of these structural flaws affecting the value of the ad exposure we sell, will be addressed.
If we want to grow a pure online advertising industry and not a direct-mail business online, then we need to:
We have serious issues. A press release touting $43 billion in total online ad spend doesn’t help fix problems -- it just helps cover them up.