I keep hearing folks in the online media world, with an ominous sense of fear, say that things feel like "it's 1999 again." I assume all the new cleverly named digital media companies, the big acquisitions, and the increased media attention towards online advertising are part of the reason. As for me, I see stark differences. The growth is driven by blue-chip advertisers, not an irrational IPO market. Broadband and wireless connectivity is everywhere and time spent online, especially for key advertising demographics, has and will only continue to increase.
In fact, unlike that sense that the bottom could drop out at any time which crept into conversation at the ubiquitous open-bar parties around the end of the last millennium, I believe the future is bright. Studies have shown the Internet is responsible for 25 percent of overall media consumption, while Web advertising only receives 6 percent of total marketing budgets. That spread spells clear opportunity for successful online publishers in the years to come.
There is, however, one way in which it does feel very pre-crash these days. Attending an industry conference this week, I was assaulted by talk of "leveraging platforms," "vertical integration" and "interface management." And it's more than consultant-speak, it's the buzz words. I'm not exactly sure what "interactive narrowcasting" is, but I'm pretty sure it relates to the "long tail."
I think the huge growth in online advertising will be helped along this time around by a simplicity of language. Let's make every effort to use plain-speak to describe new product ideas and technologies.
I do understand the temptation of jargon. I was in San Francisco during the boom times in 1999 and was sucked in like everyone else. I loved dropping industry terms in conversation because it meant that I was part of the new digital elite that read The Industry Standard and the Silcon Alley Reporter. But we don't want good ideas to go the way of those publications this time around. Adoption will be faster among traditional media advertisers if we explain things simply, demonstrate them clearly, and demystify the process as much as possible. Behavorial targeting is not new and might be a good idea for many publishers, but the way I hear some people talk about it these days, you'd expect that readers were being hooked up to electrodes and monitored by a team of psychologists.
Along these lines, I think publishers would do well to keep simplifying the way we sell online ads. Let's continue to move away from complex proposals that calculate swaths of impressions in six different ad sizes, and move towards giving brand advertisers more ownership of sites, sections, and pages. Instead of a run of 1.36 million run-of-site impressions, how about selling ownership of the home page for a day or a week. Breaking your site's real estate up into 365 or 52 or 12 pieces, instead of sweating every discrete impression, will give advertisers more impact with their audiences and make running and reserving online campaigns much more manageable for publishers.
Maybe simplicity is exactly the "game-changing" "disruptor" that we need.