This week – attacking advertising seems to have bubbled up to the fore so I look at two leading commentators perspectives and why I think they well – miss the point.
Finding the villain.
Advertising has been the villain for as long as I can remember. Even internet marketers found a way to criticise TV advertising because you couldn’t measure it.
Farhad Manjoo in the NY Times has a piece on advertising being the central villain online.
He suggests that without it many issues we are seeing online today would disappear, giving two examples:
- Russian trolls would not be able to hone their messaging as hey could not test its impact using advertising first.
- “Nutty content” on YouTube Kids (I assume he means the computer generated animations I discussed in a previous newsletter).
Finally he suggests that the ad industry produces endless incentives for gaming the system that are only fixed after they appear.
It is an interesting proposition and certainly the world would be a different place without advertising. It would result in some very well known companies disappearing, including potentially the very publisher Farhad is writing for.
Overall though, it would be better in some ways and worse in others. It is difficult, maybe impossible, to get consensus on or even understand the full impact. I think it would limit innovation online for example. But there is one thing I am sure about. There will always be people looking to game a system. The system would just be different.
Actually, I could argue the true villain in both those examples is artificial intelligence as they are really about easier to use interfaces built on top of algorithms that make content faster to create and easier to target. Just this week, the creation of “deep fakes” became mainstream thanks to increasing awareness of software that allows you to change the face of someone in a video.
But I am not arguing that either.
Rapid innovation is the true villain, as everyone rushes to adopt new approaches in a positive way, others rush to take advantage in, let’s say, less positive ways.
Don’t blame the media.
He suggests that the ad agencies took the easy route of reinventing the offline billboards by creating banners and using algorithms to target them rather than a human, creative one.
Apple tried the latter approach though even this was positioned as a reinvention of TV advertising. They eventually, after issues with pricing and getting the ads live, shut it down in 2016.
Publishers could also try these types of approaches – though they are not exactly incentivised to encourage clicks that take their readers away from their website.
With display advertising, the attention should not solely be on clicks but whether it was seen. Of course, people screen out ads but the best ads can cut through – even online – and especially when they make it to the right audience.
Keeping things simple, advertisers will go where their audiences are and then (theoretically!) spend as little money as they can to deliver their message to them. Inertia inevitably happens though.
For as long as I can remember, Mary Meeker has in her annual state of the Internet reports, pointed out that advertising is overspending in print and underspending in mobile. Advertising spend in print is finally declining whilst spend in mobile advertising is indeed rising.
Outside of Google and Facebook, advertising is much more difficult – especially for smaller companies. Upgrading the platforms to make them more accessible will happen over time as the use artificial intelligence gets integrated more and more. Transparency and reducing fraud both remain a heavy focus for the industry today though.