Stop Blaming The Economy

It is our fault.

The current growth issues facing online advertising are problems that we created and have let persist.

There is no question that the economy has been completely mismanaged. There is no denying the $14 trillion in U.S. debt, and there is no sugarcoating the 40% drop in the Dow over the last 12 months that wiped out trillions in shareholder value.

Yet, much as we would like to believe, the growth challenges in online advertising have little to do with the recent economic struggles.

According to IDC, the average user spends 32.7 hours each week on the Internet, and only 16.4 hours watching TV. So while Internet usage is double that of television, spend lags dramatically. In 2008, Internet advertising revenue will only be one fifth the size of television advertising, a third as big as newspaper advertising, and only half of magazine advertising, according to a recent Carat report.

Marketers are an opportunistic bunch. If there was money to be made by shifting spend, they would do so. So why aren't dollars shifting more rapidly?



As any drug addict will tell you, admitting you have a problem is the first step.

For the last several years we have been drinking from a fire hose, with perpetual growth our presumed destiny. Every chance they got, online publishers explained why spend would keep shifting online and "follow the eyeballs."

We cannot take credit for a lot of the growth, though. We rode the wave of increasing broadband penetration around the world, and watched time spent online skyrocket. As Web technology got better, we benefited from the ability to display high-quality video online, and we piggybacked off the tools that enabled Rich Internet applications.

Our biggest accomplishment as an industry was targeting. We brought an unprecedented level of data and analytics to the business of marketing. We layered data point on top of data point until we could measure every page view, click, demographic and behavior.

Yet all the science came at a price. We forgot about the true purpose of advertising: to create an emotional connection with the consumer that drives sales.

Let's face it; most banner advertising is about as effective as abstinence training in Wasilla, Ala. Text ads are not much better. They work fine for search, but look ugly and out of place on content sites.

90% of online ad dollars are spent on two media that fail to drive memorable engagement.

So what is the solution?

No more metrics: We need a return to basics. Marketers create endless metrics to measure success. Most of it is a distraction and a total waste of time.

There is only one metric in marketing that really matters: revenue.

Advertising may cause an immediate revenue impact, or it may have a delayed impact, but if it does not drive revenue, it was not successful.

Unleash the artists: As a technology guy, it pains me to say this, but we need more artists in this industry. We need more creative folks dreaming up ad formats that create a memorable user experience and drive consumer action. We need to create new ad formats that leverage the interactivity advantage of the Web.

Most importantly, we need some sex appeal. We need the type of ads that get talked about around the watercooler Monday morning.

Drive transactions: The Web is the best platform for getting consumers from awareness to transaction the world has ever seen, yet few advertisers leverage the Web as a transaction platform.

Publishers are still stuck in a page view and CPM world. This narrow focus ignores the opportunities that lie in leveraging the targeting information we have to help consumers find products and complete meaningful transactions.

College sites should assist you in finding a school, coach you on writing an essay, and even let you submit an application. Sports sites should let you buy merchandise without leaving the site. Dating sites should... well, use your imagination.

If we stop blaming the economy, and focus our energy inward, we can invent the ad models that will be both memorable and capable of driving transactions.

As the thought leaders in Internet advertising, we have the opportunity to position our industry for the next 10 years of growth. But first we need an honest dialogue about what we are doing right and where we could benefit from major improvements.

What do you think we need to do better? Let me know in the comments.


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