By DJ Edgerton (@wiltonbound)
Is it still 1995? You might think so when you read the mainstream’ press coverage of the evolving state of advertising and media. Yes magazine display advertising and newspaper classified advertising are in serious decline. But a lot of the focus of the coverage surrounding this phenomenon has been focussed on media content and how it is being subverted by the internet. “Why buy the New York Times if you can read it online for free?” is a refrain repeated in numerous stories. Digital is seen as the solution to every marketer’s problem. If only it were that easy.
While how we interact with content across various platforms is a big story, I think that (at least part of) the big picture is being missed here.
Yes, display ads are suffering and there is a push to move to digital marketing. But interactive advertising is not simply about replacing one media with another. Consider this. The response rate to online banner ads declined by 50% last year. Research firm Comscore noted only 16% of the population even clicked on a banner ad last year. And 8% of internet users accounted for 85% of those clicks. From 2007 to 2009, non-clickers rose from 64% to 84% of the online population. But beyond the dedicated trades, not many journalists are writing about that. it’s been only 15 years since HotWired sold the first banner ad to AT & T but it seems like the banner ad could go the way of things like Publisher’s Clearing House or your local Pennysaver. Still present in the marketing mix, but not terribly relevant.
Of course, marketers aren’t totally ready to write off this type of advertising just yet. But it’s requiring greater and greater creativity to get consumers to take notice. Site takeovers like Apple’s recent hijacking of the New York Times’ homepage and using innovative technology like live video integration like Visa recently did are striking examples that there is still some life left in the format. But as search and social media continue to grow, a standard banner ad starts to look more and more like a Burma Shave billboard.
As much as it scares those of us in the marketing filed to acknowledge it, the public’s relationship with advertising is going through a seismic shift. DVRs help viewers tune out TV commercials. Services like Pandora do the same for radio advertising. And banner ads appear to be falling victim to this rejection of unwanted marketing messages as well. No platform is immune to this cultural and generational phenomenon.
We’ve talked at length on this blog about the power of stories and storytelling. And it’s truer today than ever. If your brand doesn’t have a compelling story to tell, all the ad buys in the world won’t help (just ask the guys who put together the marketing plan for the Zune). But if your product does have a compelling story to tell, then it’s up to you to find the right mix of communications tools to get that story out to your desired audience. Digital, with it’s low distribution costs and ability to curate dialogue between marketers and their customers can be a huge part of that mix. But it’s not the only solution. And it needs to be used creatively and engagingly if it is going to offer a real solution. Later on this week, we’ll look at some folks who are succeeding on that front.
In the meantime, ask yourself what is at the core of your digital marketing strategy. Is it just a desire to reduce costs and measure ROI (admirable goals, for sure)? Or is it a desire to communicate with your customers through as many different channels as possible?