What is the purpose of online advertising?
Erwin Ephron, the godfather of modern media planning, stopped by the Clickable offices for a visit last week. I felt like he shared 40 years of advertising wisdom in 60 minutes. He may be an old-timer, but his insights are timeless and highly relevant to our work in digital advertising innovation.
We talked about integration and performance of different media formats, but, most importantly, purpose. For example, what is the purpose of television? Awareness. The purpose of print (while it’s still around)? In-depth and qualitative. The purpose of radio? To connect with shoppers. And the purpose of outdoor advertising? To remind people who are in a position to shop. I know, this all seems simplistic.
But what about online advertising? Surely, search advertising’s purpose is to capture shopper intent. It does so extremely well, providing more economic visibility than any other advertising medium. It’s made Google one of the most valuable media companies in only a few short years. But what about the rest of online advertising, such as display?
And that’s precisely the problem. So far, with the exception of search, online advertising has failed to find its core purpose. And to characterize the rest of online advertising as a single entity wrongly diminishes the challenge, because there are many online ad formats. The solution? Erwin underscored that we’re still lacking fundamental ethnographic research about how people interact with and use online advertising. The problem is that basic, and we need to better understand it before we can even begin to think about measuring and connecting it to business performance goals.
Lastly, we arrived at the ultimate truism: if you don’t like online advertising, it’s easy — especially easy — to condition yourself to ignore it. I used to think that Adblocker Plus, the browser plugin that removes all ads from your Web experience, was a potential threat to the advertising business. It’s only a red herring because the human brain subconsciously takes care of the problems of irrelevancy, clutter and waste for us — most of the time.