The talk has now begun to climax, not with fresh and creative ideas, but rather with a desperate whine.
Some publishers (not all, mind you) have sounded plaintive cries to the media buying community, bemoaning the fact that though the average usage of the online media is around 12%, it still sees less than 1% of the overall spend. “Why don't we get more of the money?” they cry.
I feel like I've had this conversation with sales people a thousand-and-one times over the last couple of years... I feel like Prometheus getting his liver eaten out every day, only to have it grow back and eaten again, and again, and again.
The "if only advertisers spent a fraction of what they spend for a :30 TV spot online" argument simply isn't convincing enough. This argument is missing the real point. The real point is DEMONSTRATE VALUE.
Until a particular ad vehicle can do that, whether it is a television show, a magazine, or a website; the money just won't be coming in. You see, it isn't about bells and whistles, it is about VALUE. Just ask Tina Brown and Harvey Weinstein.
What kind of value, you might say?
Well, value means different things to different people, I suppose. If I were talking about the larger world, I'd put it in metaphysical terms. I would make some argument reminiscent of Plato's Phadreus dialogues or Robert M. Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I would make some proclamation about VALUE being some sort of Kantian 'ding-an-sich' characteristic that we all agree to, but none of us can precisely define.
And maybe talking about VALUE when discussing a media vehicle and its value proposition (See? See? 'Value?'), we aren't talking about a terribly different thing. After all, the sense of value in either context is largely perceptual. But I think when discussing value as it pertains to media, we can actually point to something in a way we can't when we talk metaphysically about value. I think there is something here that is more akin to John Stuart Mill that there is to Heraclitus.
I am growing weary of the "if only they'd spend the amount of one spot on ER with us..." argument. I'm going to let you folks in on a little secret a lot of online publishers are still not aware of. When a VP of advertising and her or his brand manager sign off on a schedule including a $600K :30 spot on ER, they do so because, in the grand scheme of things, they have some idea as to what the communications value is of the media that :30 spot represents. They have some idea as to how much product will likely move as a result of that media. Are they causal associations? No, but have repeated correlative relationships been demonstrated enough so I know that if I run 150 TRPs a week for 4 weeks I'm going to reach 50% of my target 3 times and that is going to translate in moving my sales needle X? You betcha.
You see, VALUE to an advertiser ultimately means "does this thing help me sell my product." Yep, it's true. I know that may come as a surprise, but what clients really hope to accomplish when they buy media and conduct advertising campaigns is sell their product.
You can show me all the IAB/Dynamic Logic/Millward Brown reports you want, but at the end of the day, I need to know that YOUR vehicle is going to help MY product sell. End of story.
A publisher does not have to go nuts with a zillion different ad units, full of Flash, Unicast, pop-ups, unders, and overs. Well, okay, maybe some popovers would be pretty good right now, but "Out of the box" thinking does not necessarily have to translate to "more annoying crap on site competing with less annoying crap on site."
Why not try selling sessions, like the ones NYTimes.com is experimenting with, or audience blocks rather than just gross impressions, or GRPs, or "station domination?"
There are so many simple things we could be doing to make this an attractive advertising vehicle (and there are some sites out there doing it, like CBS Marketwatch, god bless 'em). But so many sites and their sales staff are still anchored to VC thinking and their dreams of avarice whose formula is “1000 pageviews X unrealistic CPM = riches of Midas,” that they can't get beyond the fact that what most advertisers are looking for is more value, not more options.
They just settle for more options because they aren't getting the value.