Doug Garnett’s Blog


Web Advertising and the Myth of “Lean Forward Media”

The companies promoting various forms of online advertising spend vast amounts of time pointing out well understood challenges with off-line advertising. But those very same companies are blind to the tremendous weaknesses in online advertising.

And the truth is that there are tremendous downsides to web advertising – downsides that may explain the extraordinarily low CPC’s that can be charged online. (More on these costs later.)

The Myth of Lean Forward Media. In the 1990′s advertising agencies claimed that the web had a huge advantage because web surfers were “active and engaged” – that they were “leaning forward” instead of “leaning backward” like with TV. And an entire industry leapt to the fully irrational conclusion that if someone was leaning forward to, for example, read an article, they’d also be more active and engaged with an advertisement.

Fast forward to 2012 and it’s clear they were wrong. In fact, when you consider the way people work, the opposite is true. The more engaged I am with a news story or on the web video I’ve chosen to watch, the less I’m able to open my mind to take in what an advertisement offers.

It’s so bad that when we’re engaged with seeing/searching on the web, we may well be LEAST able to receive advertising messages of nearly any media.

Making the Web Worse: Fragmentation. The web weakness is made worse by the dramatic fragmentation of web audiences. TV aggregates audiences – brings people together so we can reach large numbers.

But the web – shatters them into minuscule pieces. That shattering fundamentally limits the web’s ability to deliver large power.

The New Myth: Targeting by Web Behavior. Still seeking an advantage that can make web valuable for mass campaigns (instead of it’s marginal value known today), websites everywhere and a wide range of venture funded advertising companies are now touting amazing advantages by pinpointing your audience.

Truth is, they’re wrong once again. It’s just as impossible to target on the web with laser-like focus as it is anywhere else. (Explaining this deserves an entire post I’ll get out in a few weeks.)

These Web Weaknesses Explain the CPC Contradiction. I’ve noted for quite some time that if the web theories about advertising were true, they’d be charging far more per click than other media types charge for equivalent action.

But the truth is the opposite: Even when you have a highly targeted audience on the web, you’ll pay far, far less per click than you would for action equivalent through other media.

A Tremendous TV advantage. By contrast, TV ads hit us when we’re relaxed and open – able to hear about new things that interest us. (We’ve heard this in research with consumers about when they’ve called in response to DRTV advertising.)

Even better, rather than fragment the audience, TV aggregates an audience so that advertising reaches far more people and reaches them at a time when they’re relatively open to new messages.

(I focus on TV because that’s the area I know best. Magazines offer similar opportunity to reach consumers when their minds are open as does radio, outdoor, and often newspaper.)

Plan Your Campaigns with a Clear Head. I’m a strong proponent of integrated campaigns and firmly believe the web is part of those campaigns. But it needs to be balanced with an accurate awareness of web weaknesses. And those weaknesses seem to shake out meaning that the web will only deliver a power of 10 where TV delivers the power of 100.

Copyright 2012 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

Categories:   Advertising, Business and Strategy, Communication, Digital/On-line, marketing, Media, Research & Attribution, Social Media, Technology Advertising, TV & Video, Video


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