Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
October 1, 201010:15 PM

The Web Has Failed Advertising

Think about this: the Web has failed advertising. Hasn't it?

This was the question Marketing Magazine asked yesterday following an Advertising Week session titled, Digital Publishing in the Age of Engagement, that took place on Wednesday in New York City. The context behind the question is that advertising (as we have known it to date) offers little by way of content and engagement, which seems to be the main thrust behind online usage for consumers. They're no longer just consuming content. They're engaged with the content (text, audio, images and videos) in a very different way.

Advertising has failed.

"Erin Clift, senior vice-president, global sales development at AOL, said 'failed' is a strong word, but the Internet as it exists today isn't built for what brands are trying to accomplish. 'Publishers in general just need to think differently,' said Clift, offering up her company's new platform Project Devil as a possible answer. 'What we're trying to do is maximize the page for the consumer experience. And if you're going to reinvent a page for content, then let's also reinvent the page for brands to really engage with the users who want to connect to that content and give them a canvas where they can have messaging, utility and function.'"

The Web has not failed advertising. Advertising has failed the Web.

Let's tweak my last turn of the phrase: advertising - as we have known it to date - has failed the Web. Bad, boring and interruption-based advertising always struggled to capture mindshare. Traditional marketers beat that reality through frequency and repetition (in layman's terms: shoving more of it, more frequently, down our collective gullets). More modern online advertisers not only followed that tactic, but they also cluttered the pages with multiple messages in multiple sizes in a very primitive way (low quality images and creative to ensure speedier downloads).

We did it to ourselves, really.

When those models began to fail, we switched the name of "banner advertising" to "display advertising" as if that turn of the phrase would make brands (and consumers) forget the big promise of online advertising: that consumers will take action and click on your highly relevant and targeted ads. The truth is that there is a lot more to online advertising than just those little square boxes that surround every piece of content we see online. In fact, search advertising (the kind that Google mastered) hasn't failed the Web at all. Email Marketing has not failed the Web (well, spam has, but that's another story for another Blog post). Affiliate marketing works great too.

The secret isn't much of a secret.

Add value. Add context. Add relevancy. The best advertising does this. Yes, the big idea and breakthrough creative is critical, but if it's not delivered on a platform that runs in compliment to the content it surrounds - and the desires of the people consuming the content - all is lost. If anything, the Web has changed advertising. The Web is changing advertising. The Web is forcing advertising to take a big, hard and long look in the mirror and ask itself: " how do I make consumers care about my message?"

Has the Web failed advertising? Has advertising failed the Web? What do you think?

By Mitch Joel