Posted by: goalpath | January 15, 2010

Does Internet Advertising Work? Not Really. What Would Make it Better and More Engaging?

Since the internet became the go-to place for research, finding information, entertainment and socializing every business large and small has tried to come up with the best approach to branding, product recognition and monetizing their company’s presence on the web. It doesn’t appear that anyone one or any business has really figured out how to do this effectively.

Even the giants like Facebook and Twitter haven’t cracked the code on how to monetize their traffic. While their valuations are in the billions their profits are non-existent. Facebook is valued at $9.5 billion while Twitter’s value is estimated at $1 billion. Facebook has over 300 million regular users, but doesn’t expect to go cash positive before 2010 and that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be profitable. Twitter is not close to being cash positive, let alone profitable.

What does this say about the effectiveness of web advertising? What does this say about advertising your company, your brand or your products on a social media site? What it says to me is that no one, not even the most brilliant advertising executives on Madison Avenue, has figured out how to use this medium to bring brand recognition or brand awareness to their company or products.

The one exception is Google. Of course, they are not a social media site. Google determined this early on with their Adsense and Adwords programs. Being a search engine certainly gives Google a unique advantage and a head start on the other popular web sites. They have certainly done a tremendous job branding themselves over the years. Just “Google it”. Their name has become a verb. Google is typically the first place anyone on the web will go to when they are looking for anything. Ads corresponding to that search make perfect sense.

The most popular social media sites will have to crack the code on effective web advertising soon. In order to survive they will need a better business model. Who will figure out how to help them do this – the web sites themselves, the advertisers or the advertising community? Some smart person, entity, or agency will generate some serious income whenever they do come up with a solution to this problem.

Currently banner ads just annoy most people and instead of reading the ad, they hurriedly try to figure out the quickest method of getting it off their screen. And why put the same ad online that you would put in a newspaper or magazine. Does the term multimedia ring a bell? Then there are the pop up motion ads that try to take over your screen while you are trying to read an article or get some needed information. Again, such ads tend to aggravate their audience instead of drawing them in.

On television or radio, the audience is captive and they don’t have a choice other than changing the channel or the radio station. Of course, if you have Tivo or a DVR, then you can avoid even those advertisements. If you are watching a program using the internet as your medium, you will still be subjected to commercials, but in most cases there are fewer of them during the program particularly on sites like Hulu or a broadcast network site. Still the network ads are usually more compelling and more entertaining. Then again, how many ways can they sell us E.D. drugs? No more twin tubs please!

When it comes to social media, Steven Hodson in a recent column on Mashable.com, suggested that social media sites should ask for donations using Paypal to generate income. If you like Twitter or Facebook and use it regularly, then why wouldn’t you want to contribute $1 or $5 a month. He calculated that if 50% of the Twitter users donated $1 per month, that would result in $500 million of revenue per month for Twitter. Personally, I don’t believe users would fall for that concept, particularly given the fact that the users are the ones generating the content on that site. Without the tweets there would be no Twitter

Personally, I think the best approach would be a compelling well produced viral type video highlighting the advertisers’ product or message. Videos that people would want to watch and not be forced to watch. You can view samples of this type of video at http://adage.com/digital/article?article_id=140819. Check out the bottom of that page. These are agency produced videos that appear on YouTube. 30 and 60 second segments of these videos can also be seen in standard television commercials. On YouTube, the videos last 1-3 minutes. My favorites are the roller skating babies and the bulldog playing Tony Hawk’s video game.

The most successful video ads would need a theme and be serialized. It is a proven fact that people recall and respond to ads that draw their attention. Recall is a logical process while recognition is an emotional process. Motion, such as video, evokes emotion, but the printed word normally doesn’t do that. Of course these videos would need a recurring theme or character. There are plenty of well done TV ads that come to mind. The e-Trade baby is one. Remember Joe Izuzu? Okay I might have just dated myself.

These web videos could be original content or they come from a clip of a current box office hit movie that includes a clever use of your company’s product. They could be elaborate productions or well thought out amateur videos. If you think that you can’t produce an inexpensive video that draws millions of viewers, you need to watch the Pink Glove Dance on YouTube. This video was made to promote breast cancer awareness in a hospital using hospital staff as its cast and was done for very little money.

Come on people. It’s time to think outside the box and get creative. A well-made, creatively done video ad should draw you in, not push you away. One option for Social Media sites would be to insert 15-20 second ads every 10-15 minutes. That might not be too intrusive for most people. If the user wanted to avoid these interruptions they could pay a monthly use fee to use that site, say $1 or $2. The web isn’t going away and we need to come up with ways to make it a viable commercial enterprise. Wouldn’t it be cool if the web ads were so good that your friends recommended you view some of these video ads?

With the advent of broadband and streaming video, web ads shouldn’t be rehashed versions of print ads. That is sooo nineties. Video and/or clever animation is where it’s at. Being able to quickly opt out of any web video should be mandatory. If a product ad isn’t compelling enough to make its potential customers want to watch, then the viewer should be able to click it away. On the other hand, if it is good enough to bring you back several times, then the production will be well worth the investment.

What’s you opinion about web advertising? Got a better idea? I would love to hear it. Comment on this blog and tell us what you really think.

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