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When digital communications is part of the mix

April 13, 2010

Two of my favorite bloggers The Ad Contrarian and AdLab, got into a recent spat.

In my RSS reader, TAC plays the role of curmudgeon, while Ad Lab plays the role of digital explorer. I look forward to posts from both of these smart marketers. Suffice it to say, they have different takes on some of the things we tackle at our agency.

But what I really want to talk about is this line from TAC in his post “The failure of web advertising“.

“After 15 years, can anyone name even ten serious non-native consumer-facing brands that have been created by web advertising?”

TAC’s obvious point is that the internet has failed where TV once didn’t.

Back when there were only 4 channels, and few distractions other than “outside”, around the time food companies created TV Dinners designed specifically for families to eat dinner while watching TV, TV launched brands to relatively captive audiences:

“Fifteen years into its mainstream life, television had created scores of powerful consumer-facing brands.”

So there you have it. TV 1, internet 0. Game, set, match. Agreed.

The issue, I would argue, is that the internet has a bit more competition. That said, as Nigel Hollis says, the web is crap at building brands. (Nigel is the resident research guru in my RSS feed)

“But if you have a new brand, then forget the web when it comes to establishing what your brand stands for. Even if you can put your news in front of people, no one will pay attention. Because it lacks significance, your brand name will not be noticed, and no one will seek you out.”

So, TAC is  right. Online advertising has been bad at building brands. But I think a big part of that is due to how badly it’s been practiced.

For the most part, websites were useless loads of crap. Brands put up websites because “you had to have one”, rarely for strategic purposes. I’m still amazed that smart marketing people felt the only reason to put up a website was because the other person did. When I asked people inside my agency at the time to think about a goal for a client website, it generated blank looks and hushes.

With few exceptions, we did online brochures. Not good for building brands. Don’t believe me? Outside of the Subservient Chicken, name a good brand website from the last decade.

The other foray into digital was the banner ad, easily the most needy of all marketing tactics. Having the banner ad be the first example of web marketing is akin to having a 5 minute infomercial that repeats the phone number 100 times be the first example of marketing on TV. We’d have run away screaming from that as well.

As marketers, we allowed a banner ad — a thing that had to interrupt people from reading the content, to be judged on whether people clicked it. It’s like judging a billboard on how many people call the 800 # as they drive by.

It was hard to get people to notice and click, so people added flashing lights to needy banner ads that screamed “touch me, click me, feel me” like a Who song gone bad.

Web marketing has failed to launch a brand. Truth is, it would have been a flipping miracle if any brand could use an online brochure (website) and needy banner ads to launch.

But now, times aren’t different.

There are now many new places to communicate a message. Marketers aren’t stuck with a landing page coming from a banner ad leading to almost nowhere. The marketing toolbox is immense, and campaigns that straddle the digital and real world aren’t just possible, they offer exciting possibilities.

We shouldn’t eliminate digital ideas because on their own they haven’t done shit, we should embrace them and finally start doing things that aren’t shit.

There will be a coming together of the curmudgeon and the digital explorer. It will happen mostly because the future consumer won’t be a curmudgeon – they’ll be a people comfortable with the technology they’ve grown up with.

As agency people, we better get there before they do.

References: some blogs worth reading

Advertising Lab

The Ad Contrarian

Straight talk with Nigel Hollis

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