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The Death of Display Media (hopefully)…

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A relatively provocative statement, I know. A little heavy for what I hope won't be a short tenure as a contributor to this blog. This subject I think, needs to be addressed by the digital advertising and media industry if we are to progress and compete with the effectiveness of other forms of media in eliciting an emotional response from the consumer.

Why do I predict, and look forward to the death of the banner ad? Well that is easy, just look at the way we have changed our communication methods over time in relation to technological developments. Take for argument's sake, the humble smoke signal. Used by ancient civilizations to communicate pre-ordained messages over large distances in an efficient manner. Yes, it had its pitfalls, but for all intense purposes, managed to perform a relatively rudimentary yet important role in our repertoire of communication.

We have come a long way from the smoke signal. We now have the ability to communicate en masse or personally, to anyone in any corner of the globe through a vast array of means and channels. We have at our fingertips, one of the most powerful tools man has ever created. The Internet.

I suppose given this context, the way I think about banner advertising is that it is tantamount to trying to blow smoke signals down a phone. Completely ineffective and not really utilising the strengths of what that this fantastic technology is enabling us to do.

We need to ask ourselves the question, why has it come to this? Well I think there are a number of factors at play here. I feel that we have dwelled on our laurels as an industry. People have flocked to digital and online media like fish to water. We have seen interfaces improve, the web democratize and become an integral part of peoples lives. And yes, we have taken full advantage of that. Slapping ads in every spare pixel of screen real-estate that we could find.

In regards to digital media (not necessarily digital advertising & marketing) we need to remind ourselves we haven't invented anything that made the web experience better; we haven't drawn the crowds; we haven't innovated the way we connect with people. What we have done is actually detract from people's online experiences. First it was pop ups, then banner ads, now pre-rolls, the list goes on. We have taken the press model and translated that into online media.

What have we achieved by trying to jam a round peg into a square hole?

  • average click through rate for display ads is 0.1%. Source: DoubleClick
  • 8% of internet users account for 85% of clicks on display ads (comScore)

Hold on you say, digital advertising is innovative! WE create tools and platforms that serve a purpose; that entertain; that streamline people's interactions. Yes, we most certainly do. That is the stuff people enjoy, they find value in and want to interact with but this has allowed publishers and ourselves to become LAZY. We welcomed this revolutionary medium yet did nothing to reinvent the way we communicated en masse or to a group of relevant people through media that they were enjoying and consuming. We have allowed media owners to dictate the state of play in the digital arena, rather than truly reinventing the environment, whereby connecting with people will create value and increase the effectiveness of our messages.

The reason for writing this post is that I am seeing the emergence of a pattern throughout the digital world inwhich we are showing an increased resilience to mediocrity. As marketing becomes more focused and budgets become more and more aligned with consumer behaviour, businesses are investing heavily in the way they digitally communicate to consumers. I attend meeting after meeting where excited media agency reps, gesticulate and explain the phenomenal impressions that they will achieve through digital media. With baited breath and a sense of achievement they bellow to whomever will listen they have just brought 21mil media impressions for a measly $200, 000. The room gasps and is impressed that with such money one can purchase SO much attention – its seems like a no-brainer. Obviously the applause and congratulations continue till someone stupidly asks what sort of engagement is this value added, supremely planned and commercially well supported media plan going to elicit?'. Without batting an eyelid and with supreme confidence the media rep states, roughly 21,000 clicks (based on industry average). Now I am not sure whether it is just me, but I would be confident asserting that there are not many industries that would consider a 0.1% success rate acceptable.

By no means is this article supposed to be a beat up on either media agencies or media owners. It is intended to spark debate about whether we as an industry are happy to sit back and settle for mediocrity. Settle for the digital media landscape we have created and therefore are forced to play in. Or should we be striving for a different way, a better solution, rather than optimizing a broken model?

I, personally feel we need to find another way. Together.

I have an idea of what the solution might look like. It has two core elements, and requires massive balls:

  • a) Reinvent the media real estate. that we have to play with,. Reinvent how it is integrated into the user experience, and gain a better understand of how to communicate to a large, relevant audience through digital media. As opposed to the current real estate that we work with. As an industry I think we need to come together to find solutions that work and become ubiquitous to ensure the adoption and transition. Not just for the sake of us, but for the sake of the consumer. I work in a digital agency, where the vast majority of people in the office have ad blockers. Let's try and win back consumer confidence. Let's actually serve a valuable role in their media consumption, before it is too late.
  • b) Commercially reward creative execution. By this, I mean the best way to generate positive emotional salience toward your brand, is to deliver strategically sound, creatively solid and innovative digital work. Media Owners do not discriminate between good and bad creative ideas and their use of space. In-turn this undermines the user experience for consumers, making it harder for us all to gain respect, attention and time in the future. So let's consider for a minute the merits of adopting a system that shift the power back to the consumer. Like a Reddit system, users would see ads through any media and vote on them. Vote on them by indicating a thumb up or a thumb down based on things like their relevance, creativity, usefulness and entertaining qualities. etc. This has a four fold effect, i) The consumers would benefit from never seeing that ad again, enhancing their consumer experience, and start to receive more relevant and entertaining advertising ii) The media owner would be able to punish an advertiser by charging a premium (say 20% - 30%) for their ad space because it detracted from the user experience and therefore increased the likelihood of a user switching away from the media, diminishing the media owners ability to maximize their value iii) Consumers that deemed a particular communication above average in terms of things like creativity, quality and usefulness, would receive discounts on their ad space by let's say 20 – 30%. This would not only encourage the delivery of a better consumer experience but maybe even increase page impressions, dwell time and other attributes by as much as 20 – 30% if not more. Consequently increasing the media owners profitability (because lets face it 90% of advertising is crap so this would heavily favor the media owner from the start). iv: It would really hammer home to marketers, indifference to their brands. It would also change the conversation back to creativity.


Ideally resulting in campaigns that consumers appreciate want to see and interactive with. And for the advertisers that are willing to really push their creative boundaries, they can expect the exceptionally large "carrot" of a 30% discount on their media spend. Not only would this represent huge savings in their media budgets, but also free up funds that could either be reinvested in extending campaigns and their reach, or diverted to forming more useful and creative ways to connect their products and services with consumers.

Alright, so this is more of a wish list than a solution, which pivots the conversation away from reach and frequency, refocusing on the consumer. So how do we creatively develop a solution to the digital display crisis, that focuses on delivering creative solutions that actually engage consumers, without detracting from their experience?

Obviously, most of us would state that this is already our approach to advertising and marketing. I would argue that as long as banner ads exist, this is not entirely true.

Irrespective of all the retargeting, profiling, data targeting, rich media, interactivity etc. that gets incorporated into digital display media, I don't believe it will ever truly focus on connecting consumers to our client's products and services, in a way that they deserve and in a way that the consumer deserves to see them.

Feel free to debate or debase my opinions below.

Tagged in: branding

My time in the digital industry: 8 Years
My time at Reborn: 3 Months
My mission at Reborn: To help create ideas that resonate and connect with people
My special blog topics: The Digital Landscape
Digital trend I'm most excited about: Seamless interconnectivity, between devices, environments and objects

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Guest Thursday, 08 December 2016