Ad networks are an insidious evil that have perpetrated our industry. They are a viral, exploding business model that fills our world with more annoying drivel fired at us one 30k banner at a time. It's the business equivalent of a massive outdoor flea market. It's eBay for display advertising. OK, OK... I'll calm down.
Ad networks are causing some profound changes to the advertising landscape. Is it their fault that we're stuck with the banner? No, of course not. It's our fault. We all stopped doing truly innovative advertising online. Publishers became locked in their designs, and sites became so expensive to modify with ever-expanding and more technical infrastructures, that we all got stuck in a system.
The agencies and the clients have produced so many ads at specific formats and requirements that any new format has a massive uphill battle. We've built a banner infrastructure. Getting out of it may be as difficult as reducing our dependence on oil. You could create the greatest human transportation device in the world, one that runs on electricity, that allows almost 30 percent of the entire U.S. population to commute back and forth to work, but if you couldn't use it when it was raining, and if cities banned their use on sidewalks or roads, it wouldn't work. We're mired in the same atrophied place online.
So what changed over the last three years in online advertising and why is it worse than ever? Why does it seem like the quality of advertising online is going down at an ever alarming rate? Ad networks.
Again, it is not their fault, it's what they've enabled that has created the current situation. The web grew too fast. Our consumption of online content grew too fast. And there is still not a model other than advertising that really pays for it all. More and more pages are viewed, and yet there just isn't enough advertising at premium prices to fill the space. Thirty percent of consumption and only 6 percent of advertising spending is done online. That's basic market economics. Too much supply, too little demand, prices plummet.
Enter the ad network to fill that void of billions and billions of ad impressions. The sales staffs at the larger sites could not possibly service all the potential clients, and the smaller sites with minimal traffic didn't have a sales staff. What we ended up with is blinky-blinky horrific eye-piercing creative to break through the clutter. Aesthetics went out the window. Our world became a direct response monster. The last time it happened was with Google AdWords. That revolution helped bring an effective advertising vehicle to the hundreds of thousands of small businesses across the country, and the world. The difference this time? Well, it's fairly difficult for any business to truly make something in AdWords look horrific. But banners? Oh, the horror!
It is, however, the ad networks that are going to save our industry, at least until we figure out how to really impact consumers online, and impact them in a way that is not custom ad creation, but a standardized format that is relatively easy to create, easy for clients to understand, and easy to measure.
Uh, yeah, we are so not there yet, are we? But when we do get there, ad networks will be the delivery mechanism for that creative. The ad servers will dish them out, but it's the ad networks that will be the nation's entry ramp. They are steadily becoming the backbone of our whole online ad delivery system. Until then, though, I'm stuck with the banner. We are all stuck with the banner -- the stupid moving pixel monstrosity.
The agencies and brands that do online advertising will someday have the budgets to create meaningful creative, with advertising agencies on retainer, internal staff to run marketing, and digital strategists who understand the medium. They will be able to attack social media, sponsorships and get away from the banner ad. But right now, they have AdWords, and they are hungry for more.
Banners? The consumer hates them, the creatives abhor them, but the clients love them, the agency makes a profit on them, and our entire industry benefits from them. Your view of ad networks and the banners they sling all depends on where you sit in the marketing landscape of the consumer, the agency, the client, the creative and, yes, even our industry.
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