The effects of digitization have forced almost every information industry to innovate from the newspaper industry to the music industry. It is almost shocking that the one industry that has long supporting most web services, the advertising industry, hasn’t figured out an efficient and successful model for the Web.
Currently advertising on the web is ineffective and intrusive. The web is an interactive medium by nature, a two way street, a conversation with users, something previous mediums have never been able to accomplish. The Web 2.0 movement got users thinking of the web in different ways, as a tool to connect and share with others.
Advertising on the web cannot mirror previous advertising methods because the web is capable of so much more than the limited traditional media outlets. The broadcast nature of television constrains users to watching ads as they interrupt programs; web users have more control over the content they choose to view and the ways in which they interact with websites. Everywhere except the web, advertisements are tailored to the formats by which they are displayed, for example text/image ads in print and video ads on television. Web advertising should be interactive and leverage the social and interactive capabilities of the web.
Ad blindness is on the rise, I’m sure you probably don’t even notice the ads on Facebook anymore and if you’re like me, I’m sure you get frustrated by the Flash ads the takeover your entire screen and hide their close button. My theory is that advertising cannot take place on the web the same way it does in traditional media. I am forced into viewing ads on television and in print but the web doesn’t work the same way. Maybe it’s something about how easy it is to purchase things online that tempts advertisers to pester us to buy things at every blog and website we visit, but I am rarely in the mood to buy things at the times they approach me (regardless of how targeted they are), wasting their ad dollars and my screen space.
Today’s online ads are set up the way candy is set up at a grocery store, at the checkout line, as an impulse buy. Advertisers place their ads around content and expect me to behave like the impulse buyer and click on their ad and buy their product. This is not how people buy things on the Internet. When people shop online, they go online with the intent of buying things; they are focused, in tune to their “shopping mode.” If I am reading a news story before I leave for class, I do not have the time or interest in buying something at the moment, regardless of how relevant the product is to the article.
Instead of trying to sell me your product at every waking moment, take this time to engage me as a person. Introduce me to your company, “sell” me your company: it’s values, ideals, etc. Web 2.0 had users connecting and sharing, sharing information about themselves and information with others. Use this as a branding opportunity. Many products, however relevant to my interests, don’t necessarily translate into products I would actually buy. If you have to display an ad at random, don’t target your products to me unless I am in “online shopper mode,” tell me about your company. Use my information to target companies to me that share my values and beliefs.
I don’t care if you are a company that sells a product I would never purchase, use this medium to get me on your side, make me a fan of your company. For example, I don’t have a pet so I don’t have to buy pet food. If a relevant sponsor to an article I am reading about dogs is a company like Purina, they should still take the opportunity to make me a fan of their company. This way if I have a dog in the future or a friend asks me to pick up dog food (without specifying a brand) for his pet on my way home, I’ll think to buy Purina because they engaged me.
Some quick exceptions: I think today’s type of web ads would work if sites could tell when I was online for the purpose of shopping and only displayed them at those times. I also think the TV model of advertising works well on services like Hulu, most people don’t mind sitting through periodic, 30 second advertisements in exchange for full episodes/movies at high quality (most people are also used to this format for broadcast and video anyway).
The bottom line for this model of advertising would not be in immediate sales, but in attention. This model would open a dialog about a company between friends and kick start a guerilla marketing campaign with even less effort. It would generate buzz and interest in circles of people who can actually get the word out to potential buyers.
For the same reasons that a company like Twitter is so successful, even without a revenue stream, this strategy has a strong potential for success. This is simply a different model that values relationships instead of click through rates. Tying back to the point I alluded to at the end of my last article, now more than ever on the web it seems attention is more valuable than cash.