What Is The Purpose Of Online Advertising?

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.

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Published by Max Kalehoff

Father, sailor and marketing executive.

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  1. Great question to ask. The answer for online advertising is all of the above.

    The “purposes” of traditional media you mention are a made-up nomenclature that turned into pseudo-science spun by crafty salesmen and then into accepted vocabulary so buyers and sellers could converse efficiently. Anecdotal evidence at best to correlate those purposes to actual business outcomes.

    Online advertising is DR, brand, re targeting, behavioral, awareness, intent all wrapped into one. But it's hard damn work to sort that all out. Most brands and agencies find it completely overwhelming. Online advertising also takes many formats, so lumping it together is not a productive way to segment. The attributes of search (paid and natural), display, affiliate, email, social network and sponsorships online are all very different.

    Bob Greenberg at RG/A had a very relevant column in AdWeak early last year called Funnel Clouding. I commented on that post here http://tinyurl.com/8trbzr.

    1. The key insight you note is “converse efficiently.” The crafted “purposes”
      simplified the the landscape reduced the friction to doing business. While
      imperfect, those purposes were generally accepted rules that could be
      applied to optimize campaigns and drive toward goals. Agree with you totally
      that online advertising is DR, brand, re targeting, behavioral, awareness,
      intent all wrapped into one — and that’s the problem: it’s inefficient to
      do business with so many competing purposes. A lot of everything results in
      a whole lot of nothing.

      One of the interesting side conversations I had with Erwin is the role of
      creative. Creative has a dominant influence on the performance of any media,
      regardless of the intended goal or purpose. Creatives haven’t mastered the
      purposes of online media. Creative that doesn’t work is perhaps the biggest
      reason that display inventory rates are dropping through the floor right
      now. Imagine that: if display really, really could perform. But right now,
      with few exceptions, it’s not.

  2. All browsers don't have adblocker plus and many firefox users aren't aware of this tool. However pop-up blockers are universal, and pop-up ads have been successfully demolished, because they interfered with the user's browsing experience.

    Please correct the grammar/typo in the following sentence of your article:
    “And that’s the precisely problem”

    1. Good point on pop-up blockers, but they still manage to occasionally
      slip by even the mosr aggressive blockers, like the one in the image
      of this post. But I wonder why any company would want to employ a
      tactic that makes customers and prospects hate you. There’s a lot of
      “look the other way” going on with advertisers, agencies and
      sub-contractors. But still, what’s the purpose of the good

  3. Absolutely. Buyers already ignore tv advertising with tivo and dvr, block out radio advertising (or pay for sirius/xm), or screen-skip the print ads. So it stands to reason that we need to better understand our mediums of old as well as online.

  4. Good point on comscore. I was with Gian at Wharton when he first
    presented it last year. But on that note, there's a lot of work to do
    in isolating all variables in a campaign that contribute to search.
    Josh Stylman made a great point the other day, underscoring that
    search should be used as a key element of measuring performance of
    entire campaigns and their components. Surprising how isolated search
    strategy (demand capture) is from branding strategy (demand creation).

  5. The point you're missing on Adblocker Plus is not that our brain can do the same thing, but that this opt-out feature cuts out the ads before the brain even has a chance to decide if the ad is relevant. Is that not a huge threat, i.e., a handy utility (IE7 Pro) automatically deletes ads without being told to? (By huge threat, I mean, down the road, as TiVo became in 2009 versus 2004 when it was still nascent)

    1. Good point. It’s almost like direct marketing, which has less than a 1%
      success rate. So with an effective technology-based ad blocker, you’d go
      from less than 1% of people noticing or responding, to almost nothing,
      depending on number of actual installs. (Or something like that.)

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