Commentary

Words Can Save The Day

There is a lot of angst in the online ad business.  It’s not just reflected in the trades -- it is spilling out over drinks with people who sell online ads. 

Two digital media execs recently told me that the complexity of the sale was more numbing than the Scotch they were drinking.  These two execs shared some horror stories about trying to collect on what they thought they had sold.  They added, “It’s even worse for buyers” -- which is leading to a lot of turnover on the agency side.

While ad blocking is grabbing headlines, it is “viewability” that is making it challenging for publishers and buyers to conduct business.  Different definitions of what is viewable, and multiple verification sources (and associated costs) are just a few of the important issues that need to be resolved. 

It’s a tug of war right now between buyers and sellers, but it’s the right battle to have as an industry.  Selling ads that are viewed by people helps our overall value proposition.

Instead of dismissing these ads we sell as just “boxes on a page” -- or worse, camouflaging them as content -- this is a good time for our industry to simply refocus on the words we put in these ads that we want people to view.

For example, here are three random tag lines from top-shelf advertisers currently running online display ads on premium sites:

Click To Hatch the Dinosaur Egg”

“Doers Built This Nation — Learn More” (arrow pointing to click on “learn more”)

“The First Luxury Brand Awarded Top Safety Ratings...” with a shaded box underneath that reads “See Why”

As a point of comparison, here are three tag lines from various advertisers running in a premium-brand travel magazine:

“Because Someday I Want to Go Where the Wind Takes Me.”

“You Don’t Need More Vacation Days.  You Need Better Ones.”

“Paradise is Personal.”

See the difference? Of course.  Online ad copy desperately tries to induce an action that can be measured, while magazine ad copy moves you in ways that are hard to describe, let alone report.

How did we create such a chasm between print and online ad copy?  It started in the very beginning, and revisiting why is revealing.

The year was 1994, and Rick Boyce and his colleagues at Hotwired.com sold the first online ad banner.  At that time, print media was thriving, with celebrated magazine launches filled with ad pages. TV was as strong as ever and radio was rocking, so Internet advertising was naturally pushed to the back of the line for media ad dollars.

This didn’t sit well with that first wave of late-‘90s Internet ad sales execs.  They were a bunch of smart and brash Yahoos, who saw a great future -- but too long a road to get there from the back of the line.  So they decided to cut it.  

How?  By leading with the ability to deliver consumer responses to the ads they were trying to sell -- something none of those in the front of the line could offer. This short-term strategy worked, and more dollars came more quickly for ads that could be defined as “working.”  

Fast-forward to today, and you can see how talented copywriters have been put into a creative box where their words have to direct traffic instead of moving emotions. 

Clearly, this creative strategy is not working.

As we clean up sites, tone down technology tracking so user experiences improve, and move to a performance claim of ads being viewed, it’s time for online advertising copywriters to climb out of their box, read a few magazines, and then start redefining what online ads can accomplish without getting the consumer to do anything -- except feel.

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