Media Redefined: Digital landfill or digital gold?
by Martin MacGregor (@MartMacG) The debate has been raging recently about whether digital advertising is everything it has been claiming to be. This was sparked by the chief brand officer of P&G, the world’s largest ad spender, who described the way online media was managed as “murky at best and fraudulent at worst”.
Marc Pritchard put the marker down that the company would only spend with publishers and agencies if they developed a standard viewability metric, and offered fraud protection and third-party verification metrics.
“The web’s lapdog”
Blogger The Ad Contrarian (Bob Hoffman) summed up the thinking behind this perfectly: “the advertising industry has become the web’s lapdog — irresponsibly exaggerating the effectiveness of online advertising and social media, ignoring the abominable results of display advertising and glossing over the fraud and corruption…”
I listened to a creative director talk the other day and bemoan the kind of creative work that he was being forced to do in the digital age. And whom did he blame? The media agencies and online publishers which are shoehorning clients into massive digital buys that created nothing more than “digital landfill” — compromised creative work living in the dark places of the digital universe that nobody really visits.
I often come across this argument in various forms and, without wishing to sound ageist, usually from creatives who were more traditionally schooled.
The last stand
The last stand in this argument is usually highlighting that, if you walked through a supermarket today, it’s difficult to find one brand that was created through digital advertising rather than through traditional advertising. My counter is that this argument is now outdated in the new age of ubiquitous digital video on a social feed.
Yes, to be honest, static banner advertising — no matter how well targeted, relevant and creative — never made the impact that it was initially thought it would back in the late ’90s. Then it was felt that it would work as well as either print or outdoor advertising had done — and there is no debating that these media had worked hard to build brands.
Banner advertising never seemed to benefit from the stature or premium environments that these media offered. On a web page, advertising felt like an annoyance and an intrusion — and the ridiculously low click rates, despite much excitement around “engagement” from the digital industry, proved it.
20 years on
But, 20 years on, the code has been finally cracked. The ability to target broadly with audiovisual content in an intimate environment is working and finally getting the long-yearned-for traction.
In 10 years’ time, any new brand on the supermarket shelf is going to be digitally built. Hopefully by then, publishers and agencies will be in a much-more-honest space, with a simple audience metric, totally transparent reporting and with companies such as Facebook finally opening up their data for third-party verification. As a digital consumer, I’m looking forward to this age of spam and landfill being over. Most importantly, it will shift advertising into a more-positive space again.
Digital media is around 21 years old. The time is definitely right for it to mature.
Martin MacGregor (@MartMacG) is managing director of Connect, an M&C Saatchi Company, with offices in Johannesburg and Cape Town. Martin has spent 18 years in the industry, and has previously worked at Ogilvy and was MD of MEC Nota Bene in Cape Town. He contributes the monthly “Media Redefined” column, in which he challenges norms in the media space, to MarkLives.com.