So apparently the Internet Advertising Bureau is dissatisfied with search-based Internet ads.Â Seems they want to âovercome perceptions of âcreative shabbinessâ in online media, and to help prevent the slide toward a âperformance-basedâ Internet advertising economy.âÂ Ouch.
While I canât help but shake my head at the elevated nose and depressed intelligence of a dying attitude that associates âperformance-based advertisingâ with creative shabbiness, thatâs not what really bothered me about this piece.
What bothered me was two-fold:
1)Â Â Â The Interactive Advertising Bureauâs confusion about the very medium it claims to represent.
2)Â Â The implied motivation behind the IAB’s attempt to bring branding to the web.
Letâs deal with the first point and how it relates to branding via Internet Advertising.Â Basically it boils down to this:
âYou can close your eyes but you canât close your ears.â
If Iâm watching TV or listening to the radio and Iâm interrupted by your ad, I canât help but overhear your message, even if I look away and suddenly switch my attention to getting that last bit of salsa onto my Frito or avoiding the bumper of the car in front of me.
Since Iâm at least half paying attention, great creative can cause me to redirect my attention back to your ad, thereby allowing the adâs message to sink in.Â Given enough repetition, the ad gets absorbed to the point where it can sway my decision when Iâm actually in the market for the advertised product or service.
Itâs a seemingly inefficient process thatâs made shockingly effective through intelligent use of mass media.Â The required repetition and non-targeted nature of your audience is more than overcome by the sheer number of people you reach and the amount of times you reach them.Â As listeners and viewers convert over time, your mass media campaign can potentially create dramatically more traffic and sales on a per-dollar basis than targeted direct response methods.
So for intrusive or interruption-based media, great creative plus reach & frequency all go hand in hand for an effective ad campaign.Â And Iâve said before that offline branding efforts can pair especially well with a solid online web presence.
So the takeaways are:
Unfortunately, the Internet is NOT an intrusive or interruption-friendly media.Â Itâs an interactive or âengaged mediumâ precisely because you need audience permission and participation to make it work.Â Attempts to shortcut the âpermission and participationâ part usually meet with dismal results: weâve become extraordinarily good at concentrating on the active window while ignoring banner and right-hand column ads. That means great creative stands very little chance of grabbing attention from an Internet userâs task at hand.
Other than adolescent boys staring at Lamborghinis and viewers of the rarely successful viral video, people who arenât in the market for what you are offering have no interest in voluntarily exposing themselves to your ads.Â And, for a participatory medium like the internet, that leaves only people actively interested in your market/offer.Â People who, I donât know, might indicate that interest by, say, typing keywords into a search engine or somethingâŠ
Nor is the Internet a medium where thereâs usually any significant space or time between being engaged by an ad to buying the advertised product.Â If I click on a search-generated ad, Iâm pretty much already at some stage of the buying process.Â You donât have to repeat the ad to make it sink in or design the ad so that its message is memorable; you just have to make it salient to my task-at-hand and Iâll click.Â This is why ad relevance or âscentâ has generally displaced the importance of âgreat creativeâ for PPC ads.
Yes, it helps to make more concerted efforts at grabbing people earlier in the buying process, but they still have to BE in the buying process to begin with.
So despite his protest at the misapplication of reach and frequency models to Internet advertising, I suspect that IAB President Rothenberg wants to similarly misapply an interruption-based model of branding to a permission-and-participation-based medium.
Brand builders plan around reach and frequency because reach and frequency are intrinsic to the mechanics of branding. You might be able to do branding on the web through viral videos or other entertainment-based efforts, but youâll still have to ensure you reach a large number of people with enough repetitions to make your message sink in.
Will a fully engaged audience require less repetition than a more passive one?Â Sure, but less might mean 5-15 times vs. 156 or more repetitions.Â Other than planes hitting the World Trade Center or your wife saying âI Do,â very few messages are burned into your memory the first time your experience them.Â And I donât care how âgreatâ your creative is, your actual business message (vs. the novelty you wrap around it) will never reach that level of impact.Â This is why viral campaigns work better than single videos.
And this brings me to my last point and what bothers me most about the IABâs push for âgreat creativeâ over âperformance basedâ advertising:
They never once said that performance based advertising wasnât making the wisest and best use of their clientsâ ad budgets. They never seemed to indicate that their clients would be selling more and gaining more market share if they were actively branding on the web.
What they said was: âit was time for online publishers to reclaim some of the premium advertising turf vs. general market media, especially network television.âÂ Followed up by a statement that the Internetâs emphasis on performance-based or direct response advertising, âdoes little to elevate the perception of onlineâs premium communications value.â
Hmmm.Â Does this sound like Randal and the IAB are most concerned for whatâs best for clients or in whatâs best for Internet Advertising Agencies?