Where’s the advertising in online advertising?

(I’ve copied and pasted this from a great blog.It’s full of radical common sense because it’s written by a guy from Brooklyn.)

I have an odd thought about online advertising. What if there’s no such thing? What if it’s really a whole lot of other things? Let’s start at the beginning. In TV, radio or magazines, product marketing is primarily one thing — ads. Sure, there is some product placement and some pr, but 98% of the “marketing content” is ads.

On the web, it’s different. There are social media. There are sites and viral videos. There are banners. There is search. Marketers lump this all together and call it “online advertising” — but I’m not sure any of it is advertising.

Websites are more like brochures than ads. Social media is closer to pr than it is to advertising. Viral videos are more like guerilla tactics and wild postings than ads. Search is closer to a yellow pages listing than it is to an ad. A banner is more like a direct mail piece than an ad.

So where’s the advertising in online advertising? Maybe what we’re calling “online advertising” is really pr, sales promotion, listings, direct response and guerilla tactics, and just about every form of marketing- communication except advertising. And maybe we’ve got the model all wrong.

When this whole thing started, we had stand-alone online agencies. Now online is integrated into the fabric of most agencies.
But what if both these models are wrong? What if social media would be done better by pr shops? What if websites were created by sales promotion agencies? What if banners were done by direct response agencies?

What if the key competence isn’t knowledge of the medium, but knowledge of the discipline? Of course, the correct answer is that the key competence is neither of these. The key competence is creativity. The work will go where the creativity is, whether we call it “advertising” or anything else.

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    Nice article, though i would argue that a lot of what is being argued against is already in practice. A large amount of social media work is done by PR agencies, a lot of banner ads are done on a DR basis and served by affiliate networks and sponsorship deals are often about product promotion. Search is a gateway, a mix between the yellow pages and the phone directory and online display can be a variety of different things including traditional brand advertising.
    The great thing about digital is that there is an infinite way of approaching all the different types of ‘advertising’ on offer from a traditional mass market awareness brand campaign to highly targeted sales promotions and affiliate options. Creativity is key, but so is understanding of the medium and the different ways consumers use it, hence the importance of planning and strategy to help guide the creativity.

  • I’m not surprised that the article wasn’t written by a European.
    I always said there’s no such thing as online advertising, just online marketing. And most Europeans that work for so-called online agencies feel so offended when I say that. Because they think marketing is less creative than advertising. It isn’t like that,… especially if by advertising we don’t mean… abstract art. Actually the amount of creativity in ANYTHING is exactly the amount of creativity you yourself add to it. I have found that marketing can be more creative than advertising and business strategies can be more creative than both marketing and advertising. But the solution is never to assign names that don’t go well with the definition. Doing marketing and calling it advertising is not going to make you look any cleverer or more creative. Just like doing bad advertising is not going to make you look more creative than someone who does great marketing.

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    Dave,
    Isn’t everything advertising? I remember a tutor at college describing packaging design as graphics that wraps round a bit. Perhaps, creative communication would be a better umbrella word to describe what game we are all in?

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    I often feel that the one key thing missing from online ‘advertising’ is an idea. The key thing appears to be the medium and the format within that – a nifty little viral game or some such device. However, an original creative idea that engages with the audience and gets them to think or react in a particular way seems to be missing. I presume we are in a state of transition – clients and agencies are in love with the medium, for now. Yes it is results driven and appears cost effective in the short term. However, once the hoo hah settles down and online gets to be what it is – another marketing tool, perhaps we can get back to what we do best – creating great marketing campaigns for great clients.

  • You are right Anca. You made me think about the nature of advertising. At the heart of it remains the question of what is advertising anyway? Vorsprung durk technik is meaningless unless you speak German and yet it is full of meaning. The onamatapaeic qualities gives it more meaning than if we know what the words mean. On page 47 of last Sunday’s Sunday Times culture section is a photograph of Stanley Johnson, Boris’s father. He is drinking from one of our mugs. We sold out of that mug in three days this week. We didn’t pay for the picture to be there and didn’t even know it was and yet it sold lots of product. Was it an advertisement?

  • If it’s a good idea it works in every media. If it’s a bad idea it doesn’t work in any. Online advertising is no different to any other. It either grabs your attention and communicates your product message. Or it doesn’t. My favourite ads are funny product demonstrations. Like Boris’ dad drinking out of your mug, Jack. There’s a campaign in that, though of course your mugs do speak for themselves. Would love to know which mug it was…?

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    Beans Means Heinz. Hello Tosh, got a Toshiba? Australians wouldn’t give a Castlemaine XXXX for any other lager. How often do you see this online? When has the last great line started from an online campaign? The idea is the idea is the idea. It is untouchable and holier than any one of us, because the great idea, once born and nurtured, lives without us, like a child who has learnt to stand on his or her own two feet. The healthier and more original the idea, the longer it lives in the minds of people years after the ad has gone. These are the great characters like Arkle by John Webster of John Smith’s Bitter fame. Note: Every single example I have quoted has several things in common: 1. An idea. 2. A reason to believe the proposition. 3. The Brand Name. 4. A promise beyond all doubt. 5. They all sold like hot cakes. Online, or what some prefer to call digital, yes, it is another channel, another execution, but online is not the idea. I am online now, but that does not make me an idea. It simply makes me a participant. The idea of this subject came from Mr Lipsmackinthirstquenchinacetastinevercool fizzinpepsi. I guess the call centre guys in bangalore must have seen this ad and thought ‘Aha, so that is how they speak English in the UK’ That’s the power of a great idea.
    They mistook the execution as the idea. It changes international culture.
    It brings us together. Yes the internet brings us together, and it also sends us spiralling in a multitude of directions. The thing that clients like about it, is it is measurable. This is the Marketing department’s Golden Cow. However, being able to measure what exactly? Number of hits? Time spent browsing? Measuring an ad online will only tell us it’s effectiveness at that moment in time. It is like the flashbulb on a camera. The great idea is based on human feeling. The lived experience convinces the viewer to buy because the product becomes alive in their lives. It resonates. They have a reason to buy. Online I can resonate as: myself, a screaming lunatic, a person escaping from this life into a “Second Life” (God help us), in fact I can be anyone I choose to be. This makes communication 10 times harder because my attention is spread out into one of any of my multiple personalities (Which we all have) but nobody knows which personality is at play at the time of contact because online is passive. One day, no doubt, some new ball-busting TV channel will be born that we will all feel compelled to watch , like The Olympics, and the whole cycle will start all over again except many people will fall by the wayside getting the idea mixed-up with the execution. It’s easy done, I went through it myself until Paul Divver and his friend put me through the wringer on a D&AD course which I am eternally grateful for. An idea can be executed many ways, whereas an execution is simply that. There is no idea in anything I have said. I have merely communicated the ideas of others to prove a point. The idea is King.

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    Hi Kevin,
    I was always taught that the test for an idea was you could run it in any media.
    If it was media specific, then it was a technique not an idea.
    So for instance: TV requires: visuals, sounds, and time.
    Radio needs: sounds, and time, but no visuals.
    Print needs: viuals, but no sounds or time.
    Other media will need one or more of these.
    So an idea works across all three, a technique only works in maybe one.
    Nowadays they call that a ‘media neutral’ idea.
    But when I was taught they just called it an idea.

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    I know what you mean Kevin. In terms of adaptation of an idea are we in danger of trying to spread it across to much media these days? Why can’t an idea just be allowed to work in one format?

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    Hi Dave, I’ve just come back from George’s online blog about “Show me the money”. Thanks for the clarification. I mentioned to George about ‘The idea being King’ (not that either of you need reminding) and it occurred to me that publisher’s always go on about ‘Content is King”. As you say, an idea can work in solus within a single given media, and it’s very important not to
    overlook those opportunities when they arise… as in the LWT
    posters! Regarding ‘media neutral’ ideas I was brought up with just ideas too. It either worked or it didn’t. Online certainly muddies the waters. I wonder what is going to happen when we all start walking around with laminate roll-up newspapers that they charge to download the news in from portals at railway stations. I wonder how the media will be split. Will a page of content be charged at a lower rate than an ad? Could this be a way forward for the newspapers to print money again by providing everyone with a free tablet? It would certainly allow advertisers to book prime space where time limits could be imposed on ad exposure. Would this please the consumer, or just infuriate them beyond belief? I understand the technology is coming.

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    George’s online blog about “Show me the money”. What was the link again?

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    Really interesting debate. Couple of observations from my perspective, i.e digital publishing director. Firstly re. the future of premium online display, ref. Simon Waldman’s opinion piece in NMA, advertisers will always want to create meaningful brand associations across all platforms and digital display needs to up its game to remain part of the mix, e.g. this state of the art Apple ad running on http://www.mtv.co.uk
    With social media it’s more complicated because getting a product into a say a Twitter conversation is the modern equivalent of word-of-mouth marketing, which has always been hard to plan or control. I think social media is where idea and execution are indivisble. A good early example was the O2 college challenge on Facebook – loads of great PR for O2 for exploiting a new medium with a custom-made message. Record labels have been using the Street Team model for many years and there are of course viral agencies that offer a similar model to market your brand to the blogosphere/social sphere. ROI is dubious tho as already mentioned here. What I find fascinating/surprising is that brands are beginning to directly contact blogs and Twitterers, for e.g. my wife’s BeautyCult blog and twitter to place their products. But is that actually a new type of advertising? Feels a bit like the traditional publishing model to me.

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    Cheers Gordon.

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    Sorry about not replying John, and many thanks Gordon. I had to go for a total head removal yesterday, commonly known as a Dental Appointment.

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    No worries Kevin. 2.30 apt, was it?