Bubbles and Baseball

Someone released a study last week proclaiming authoritatively that email was becoming a saturated marketing medium (I'm not even going to legitimize the thing with a citation).


I've had a long-standing suspicion that email would be the next bubble to burst. When banners became Internet marketing's goat, everyone flocked to email expecting it to lead us to the Promised Land flowing with milk, honey, and large CPMs. Instead, that expectation bubble slowly began filling with hot air and perhaps we're witnessing it burst now.

In fact, we've been floating from one over-hyped cure-all to the next for the past several years now.

Before presenting my view on the solutions to this problem, I think it would be helpful to define what I mean by an economic "bubble":

  1. A bubble is generally built on the promise of new technology
  2. A bubble is hyped by those both inside and outside the industry.
  3. A bubble is fueled by irrational and unsustainable business models.
  4. A bubble inevitably bursts.



Since I've been in interactive marketing, I've witnessed the following saviors of interactive float to the top of the world and come crashing back down to reality: banners, email, pop-ups, pop-unders, interstitials, superstitials, and large format ads. None have single-handedly turned the industry around, as many of their proponents suggested they would.

So, what's the next gimmick? Who's going to save us now? More than likely, it's those "browser takeovers" that agencies seem to love (gets their creative folks excited, I think) but publishers and end users despise. I can't help but think that it's going to get really ugly when this bubble bursts and those aggressive direct response folks get a hold of the format.

"We're holding your browser hostage. You will not be allowed to continue your session until you Click Here to pay us $19.95 ransom. Act within the next 180 seconds and we'll throw in $1,283 in FREE TRAVEL!"

From Bubble to Baseball

Honestly, haven't we learned our lessons from all this messianism in our industry? I can spin some easy ones that follow logically from the four rules of economic bubble formation.

  1. Cool technology doesn't automatically equate to good marketing.
  2. Hype is hard to live up to and even harder to live down once you've failed
  3. The internet changes the ways we can do business, it doesn't change any fundamental rules of business. Profit can still only be made when revenue > expenses in the here and now.
  4. When the bubble bursts, we all get soaked.

So where does this bring us? As you've figured out by now, I'm a solutions guy and I'm here to help.

I think there's a pervasive mentality in our industry. It exists all the way from corporate boardrooms down to sales reps and account managers. We all seem to be fueled by the desire for the home run ball. We're swinging for the fences on every deal. Unfortunately, that means we strike out a lot.

I'm one of the folks currently complaining that we have plenty of evidence to bring brand marketers back into online advertising. Unfortunately, the hype of the past 5 years and resultant bubbles bursting all over their budgets have affected many traditional brand marketers. We shouldn't expect them to devote millions of dollars to the next Big Solution, or even to yesterdays Big Solution at a cutthroat price.

Instead of constantly swinging for the fences, we need to focus on base hits. You know, good old fashioned run production. We need to plug the set of interactive marketing tools we have into a reasonable, rational plan to get the big boys back in the game (or in the game in the first place). We know it can work, multiple studies have confirmed it.

Last week at the iMedia conference, I was heartened to see that nearly all of the large interactive agencies were starting to take this approach (though some still focused on their browser takeover case studies). This is great news for all of us in the industry.

Perhaps it's time to don the rally caps. Who wants to play Ichiro for us?

Scott Brew is President & CEO of, an online advertising network and marketing services firm based in Grand Rapids, MI. He can be reached at

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