OPINION: Advertising worked better when it didn’t have to try so hard.
Pretty sure it’s the latter.
When was the last time you heard anybody complain about the ads in their local newspaper, or in their favorite magazine? Never, you say?
That’s the beauty of print advertising, you can either look at it, or ignore it altogether. It doesn’t stop you from reading the news story or flipping to the next page, and it doesn’t hold your newspaper hostage until you answer a few simple questions.
Another thing print advertising offers is context.
If I pick up a home-oriented magazine like Architectural Digest, I can peruse all the nice-looking ads for furniture. Or kitchen appliances. Or upholstery fabrics. Or antiques. You know—all the nice things you might find in a home. Sometimes, the ads are almost as valuable as the editorial material, since they appear in the same context and actually relate to one another.
Even the local newspaper offers some context. Like local restaurant ads in the weekend section…tire ads in the sports section—where guys will probably see them. You get the picture.
Even Television and Radio follow this protocol for the most part. The only complaint might be that there are too many commercials, but there are rules to control that; with so many minutes available each hour. About the only complaint I ever hear is the non-stop deluge of prescription drug ads to which we are constantly subjected while watching television; whoever decided to allow that deserves a special place in hell.
And then there is online advertising.
I remember putting together “online magazines” back in the late 90’s, and purchasing simple banner ads for the PC manufacturing company where I was employed. I had worked in ad agencies for over a dozen years, doing loads of radio, TV and print ads, so to me, the basic banner ad seemed familiar. But due to space limitations, you couldn’t provide much information; to me, it seemed like nothing more than a tiny billboard. Simple. Build name recognition through multiple views. Maybe say something pertinent. That was it.
How many people saw it? Well, you could count that—or at least, how many times the server fulfilled a page request.
But that wasn’t enough. Logically, the wonder of hyperlinks allowed people to click on the banner, too. Not only did that prove that they saw the ad, but that it motivated them to actually do something.
Now the essence of this concept was nothing new. Clients had always bought print ads based on audited subscription numbers, and TV ads based on verified ratings. Advertisers could always be fairly confident that a certain number of people saw the ads. Of course, you’d be judged later on whether sales improved; did they call that 800 number? Did the show sell out? Did my ratings go up?
But before the advent of online advertising, the answers to these questions were sometimes a little blurry. Did that ad really do this? Maybe. We didn’t know right away; in fact, it could be months before we had a firm handle on the effect an ad campaign was having.
With online advertising, there was little if any slop left in the system. After a while, it got to where 5,000 people might see a banner ad, but if they didn’t click on it, it didn’t count. No clicks? New ad. Or new agency.
This was a benefit to advertisers. But as an old school ad guy, I remember thinking, “Boy, ad guys are screwed now, since all that brand-building you get through impressions doesn’t seem to mean shit anymore. Only clicks count.”
Of course, most advertisers think this is great, that now they are able to measure results immediately. And results mean clicks.
Impressions? We don’t really know what that does for us anymore.
When impressions count for little and the world counts on clicks, then we’re left with today’s environment, when creators of online ads will do just about anything to make you click on a link or “interact” with an ad:
-Make ads that interrupt your reading or viewing experience.
-Make ads that freeze your browser as they slide onto your screen from the left or the right, or the bottom, or the top.
-Make ads that play videos you don’t want to listen to, or watch.
-Make you answer a marketing survey before you can read an article.
If you think I am blaming the ad creators, please understand that the publishers of online media are equally to blame, perhaps more so. They are the ones overloading web pages with these ridiculous ads and tracking cookies. Even if you have a fast internet connection, you can look at the bottom of your browser window and see the countless server calls for ad components, cookies and trackers as you wait for the page to load.
And what does all of that do for you? Aside from making their web page ugly, unstable, slow-to-load and obnoxious, this crap also manages to track you around the web. It then creepily sends you ads based on all the web sites you’ve visited, articles you’ve read, or stuff you’ve bought.
And with little or no context. So you can expect to see power tool ads on that computer website, constipation medicine ads on that food website, and camping equipment ads on that graphic design website. Thanks, guys.
Yes, it’s creepy. It’s distracting. And it’s irritating, since—while someone noted I seemed to be looking for a new laptop PC six months ago—they can’t figure out that I’m not looking anymore since I bought one four months ago.
No wonder people hate online advertising.
And no wonder so many people in the advertising industry want to quit.
Instead of using creativity to touch people, inspire people, or make people think, it’s being squandered on figuring out ways to just make them click.
I used to tell clients, “Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should.”
That goes for data tracking, multimedia gimmicks and clumsy attempts to control the user experience.
Advertisers and publishers might be better served by calling off the digital dogs.
Online media may not be the place to blow through precious bandwith in an effort to get people’s attention. Instead of ten crappy ads, let’s try one good one.
It’s like this: Nobody goes on a web page to look at the ads. You’re a guest. Remember that, and start acting like one.