Why Digital Advertising Will Never Surpass $100B

All these quotes about "digital advertising surpassing $100B by 2019" are great and all, but what on earth is digital advertising?

I say that as someone who has spent over 14 years in advertising, most of it leading some of the first campaigns of the digital age. I ran the Western world’s first QR code campaign in 2005. I made the first digital outdoor campaign in the UK in 2006, and Europe’s first interactive outdoor campaign the same year.

I know enough to know how meaningless this is, and I want to make sure others see it the same way.

The marketplace now is rather confusing, let alone what it will be in 2019. Why is a radio ad on Spotify a digital ad, but the same ad on a radio station is a radio ad?  

If I watch Hulu on a TV and see a commercial, it's a digital ad. Watching CBS on a tablet, the ad becomes a TV ad.

If I read Wired on an iPad iMagazine it's a print ad, but if I read Wired on a desktop it's a digital ad.



If I see a large-format poster that's printed onto paper, it's an outdoor ad, but if the same image is rendered by LEDs, it's a digital ad.

When it comes to mobile, things become even more odd:

If I access my Facebook feed on my mobile browser, I am shown a "digital ad,” yet if I access it on a mobile app, it's a mobile ad.

If I stream YouTube on TV, mobile, a tablet, or a desktop, is the form of advertising the same? Is it all just digital?

Why do we talk about the rise of the mobile Web? There is no such thing as the mobile Web. It’s merely a specific frame to look at the same Internet. The rise of the app-based Web is a much more profound change, but few see it that way.

If you think this makes no sense now, let’s think about advertising in 2019. In that year, we will look at televisions the same way we look at phones now -- a funny word that no longer has anything to do with the past. TVs won’t be linked to “TV stations,” or show “TV programs” from “TV companies.” They will merely be large multifunction devices we use to access content, most of which moves and has sound.

Similarly, our wrists will carry small multi-use screens, our phones will be the same but larger, and we will live in an age where everything is just content and all content is digital.

There will be a pervasive Web in this world -- an omnipresent, fast, abundant, connective tissue that gives rise to a universal-assisted content layer that all screens we own will access. Whether it’s a car screen, a tablet, TV, smartwatch, laptop or phone, or whatever these devices morph to become.

Mobile devices like phones and watches will be interesting because they are carried around, are used at the point of purchase in the real world, help us make us decisions and offer the chance for contextual suggestions. You can, for instance, imagine money off coupons being amazing when combined with a mobile wallet application.

TVs and tablets are interesting because they offer the chance to entertain us, to consume richer media in more relaxed ways. They can help us when we are open minded to things in our life.

What is not interesting is anything connected to the notion of TV, radio, SMS, DVD -- i.e the pipes that deliver the information and whether they are “digital or not.” I see the world moving from channel planning to context planning. A switch from a legacy of how we got paid and how best to arrange agencies in 1975, to around people.

So how about we acknowledge that this statistic has no meaning whatsoever? The word "digital" is a pointless distraction from what matters. It’s every bit as useless as talking about “electrical agencies.”

3 comments about "Why Digital Advertising Will Never Surpass $100B".
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  1. John Grono from GAP Research, November 7, 2014 at 5:33 p.m.

    Hear hear. Digital is merely a tool - like ink, paper, electricity. The thing that differentiates is when it is Interactive, which is what I prefer to call it. I wonder that the 'I' in IAB stand for, and why we don't use it more.

  2. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, November 7, 2014 at 6:04 p.m.

    When "digital" hits $100 billion in "advertising" and poor old TV has risen to only $85 billion, we should also remember that the vast majority of TV ad dollars-----probably over 90% of them---- are for branding ads while the vast majority of digital ad dollars----- probably 75-80% of them are for promotional, direct response and other non-branding efforts. So when digital gets to $100 billion, in all probability only $20 billion of those dollars will be for branding, versus $75-80 billion for TV. Comparing ad dollars between the two media is basically like comparing apples with oranges, unless the nature of the advertising is taken into account.

  3. Tom Goodwin from Tomorrow, November 7, 2014 at 6:46 p.m.

    Ed - My point is that these different media channels don't really mean anything. We'd be far better focusing on the context which includes screen size, interactivity ( thanks John, totally agree with you) , where you are, etc. Rather than the arbitrary pipe that served the ad. Digital will be worth more than $100bn by then, but also that fact will have no importance.

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