Commentary

Brand Advertising Can Scale Online

Much is made of the disparity between the share of a user's attention that is directed online and the share of brand dollars that are spent on the Internet. This disconnect results from myriad factors, and the indictments of out-of-touch agencies that need to "get with it" or face extinction are numerous, but the finger rarely points back at the Internet. The fact of the matter is, even if advertisers doubled their online spend this year, there would be no way to absorb that influx of capital accountably. Today, the solutions available to advertisers online simply do not allow marketers to effectively communicate their brand message at scale.

The next era of online advertising requires a change in thinking, all the way from how ads are created and formatted to how measurement changes and how media can become more accountable. The next era also must respond to an increasingly fragmented media landscape and a user that demands absolute control of her environment. We need a better mousetrap -- an offering that addresses marketers' need for a differentiated experience and scale, like the 30-second spot on television.

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Television was easy and very scalable. Advertisers understood the flow -- everyone along the creation continuum knew their place and functioned efficiently within their roles. The process ran smoothly and scaled because everything was standardized.

Today, brands are challenged as they look for creative, differentiated ways to tell their story and engage users. They push out RFPs for advertising that demand publishers deliver a steady stream of new ideas, content firsts, and integrated promotions. Standard display advertising doesn't deliver the combination of sight, sound, and motion required for telling a brand story. There just isn't enough video online for the 30-second spot to scale, and pre-roll has negative brand association. Custom site integration is compelling, but rarely delivers a large enough audience to matter, and it's hard to capture the magic of a brand with 72 characters of text. Accountable, effective brand advertising online simply isn't scalable today.

The solution is out there, and we can't continue to point fingers at advertisers and agencies while we wait around for the dollars to shift. As an industry, we must continue to innovate. The promise of the Internet is too compelling. More than any other medium, online advertising allows a brand to showcase all aspects of its messaging -- from emotional engagement to entertainment to information exchange.

The first step is to introduce scalability into online advertising. Scale must address both a fragmenting media experience and advertisers' interest in a rich canvas from which to engage a user. This demands flexible, portable ad units that take on any size, live in any medium, and support branded experiences that are part of the media-consumption flow. In the new media landscape, the brand experience is no longer about integrated experiences or controlled impressions.

The second step is accountability. The interactivity, addressability and measurability of the Internet are a marketer's dream. Online advertising formats need to offer unambiguous value for brands. They should only pay when the right consumers engage with their ads. This incentivizes both the advertisers and publishers to create compelling experiences to draw those users in.

Bolstering the industry faith in online advertising can be that simple. We are entering a new era. The era of "how many?" is giving way to the era of "how good?" The era of "intention" will dissolve to the era of "attention." And the era of impressions will surrender to the era of engagements. Everyone from Silicon Valley to Madison Avenue is waiting for it, but waiting isn't going to work. We all play a role in realizing this transition and the promise of the Internet as a marketing platform.

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