It Was True In 1930, It’s Still True Today: Ad Integrity Counts

While the debate about the pending success/failure of the Internet as a successful ad medium is contemporary, there was a British advertising mogul who put his finger on the problem more than 70 years ago.

Sir Charles Higham, explaining why its very simplicity would make advertising the conspicuous feature of our age, said, “The thinking process which results in such simple language has an excellent effect upon the thing or idea being advanced. Its action is that of the threshing machine, it sorts the intellectual wheat from the chaff. This is more than a discipline: it is a test. It forces exactitude or it annihilates. It accelerates failure when a cause is weak, and it clarifies and strengthens a cause that is strong.”

Note that Sir Charles doesn’t dwell on the peripheral problems of advertising as we might (as in “we weren’t positioned far forward, right hand page…” or “the ad server put us on sites we never heard of…” or “all the viewers left by the third quarter…”) but draws a keen bead on the power of creative execution. Distilled to its essence, Sir Charles says simply that if the creative is good it will sell, if not it will fail. Says he, “It accelerates failure when a cause is weak, and it clarifies and strengthens a cause that is strong.”



While this nascent Internet ad medium struggles with a host of problems from measurement standards to more precise targeting, from over bloated claims to undercounted ads, we, like Sir Charles, ought to focus our attention on the online creative product.

There is no excuse for much of the crap that passes as Internet advertising. Do we honestly think the public is reacting positively to stuff like unsolicited spam, page redirects, page captures, pop-ups, pop-unders, ads that run all over the users screen while they are trying to read a Web page, etc.? No one appreciates more than I do how competitive it is to land advertising and how important it is to help our clients’ ads stand out and grab user attention. But as we push the envelope to achieve higher click through rates we appear to the public like school boys running about defacing each other’s posters, or worse like dishonest hucksters trying to trick users into responding.

We are misusing the technology that could make us soar to instead keep us mired in the mud giving users and advertisers alike all the more reason to distrust the future of Internet advertising. Just this morning, I read about spammers who now backdate their e-mails so they show up higher up on the receiver’s inbox and perhaps stand a chance of being read before the usual impulse to delete on receipt. Is that really the smartest way to deploy the wonderful technology that could make Internet advertising the one to one media we all envisioned?

History proves that consumers don’t necessarily have to like commercials for them to move product. Who among us didn’t hate those “Don’t Squeeze the Charmin” TV spots, but, by God, it sold a lot of toilet paper. But common sense tells us that in a medium where the consumer has some control over what he gets in the way of ads, we should produce something reasonably pleasing.

That can be accomplished through better creative talent being assigned to online advertising by agencies and using the medium more intelligently. For example, we found that up to 80% of our streaming video spots are being viewed through to completion based on a click-though of about 26%. The integrity of the spots coming from our advertisers get most of the credit (OK, ALL the credit, since many of them will read this), but we also believe part of this success is that we are using the latest java-based streaming technology in an appropriate way.

We are not trying to trick users with misleading headlines, we aren’t intruding on their progress through a web page or surfing and we aren’t showing up uninvited. In other words we aren’t pissing off the consumers who are in growing numbers using ad blocking software and are screaming for legislation to stop many of the suspect ad practices outlined above. And if you don’t think consumers have the power, ask the telemarketing industry which is about to be slapped with a national opt-out list, courtesy of our friends in Washington.

Isn’t that the shot across the bow we need to stop ourselves before it is too late? I hope so.

-- John Durham is COO of Interep Interactive, one of the largest independent online ad sales companies in the United States.

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