Online display advertising is a fragmented world. We have different forms of advertisements, banners, videos, widgets and microsites, and there is a bewildering and ever-expanding number of websites on which to place these ads. These form the interactive distribution channels for online advertising, and soon enough, these will be joined by many more, such as mobile applications and other interactive formats.
Beyond this plethora of media and platform choices lies the more serious issue: the disconnect between advertiser and consumer.
Is this disconnect fatal? It can certainly lead to ineffective use of funds by the advertiser, it can devalue the publisher's site and create apathy from consumers. At worst, it may even lead to negative brand perception, the precise opposite of what the advertisers are trying to accomplish.
With all these variables involved in getting your product and message out there, the challenge of creating a cohesive model of online display advertising that works for both the advertiser and consumer is a great one. Luckily, the past has taught us some valuable lessons about online consumer behaviour and online advertising.
We know that consumers respond when they want to respond, buy when they want to buy, click when that click is relevant to the task at hand. Furthermore, we know this also applies to advertising, as we have seen from the success of the PPC, SEO and the general value that search advertising has created. The fact is search advertising is a 'consumer-pull' model of advertising that works so well precisely because the consumer is asking for information in context rather than being presented with information, more often than not, out of context.
If the consumer-pull model of search advertising works so well for non-display advertising, then can a consumer-pull model be created for display advertising?
The good news is that the answer is yes. Slowly this consumer-pull model for online display advertising is indeed becoming a reality. However, before this evolution can be completed advertisers need to answer honestly the following questions:
Brand awareness versus sales
- What do you want to accomplish with your online display advertising: brand or product awareness, traffic to site, user interaction with your brand or sales?
- How does your advertising, or non-core content, support, conflict, augment, distract or otherwise contribute to the core content or the main purpose of the distribution channel?
- What is the best use of the technology at your disposal to achieve those goals in questions 1 and 2?
The ultimate goal of any commercial organisation is revenue generation. The path to revenue generation is often not straightforward and relies on a surfeit of sales and marketing tactics. Online display advertising generally forms part of a marketing portfolio and to date has been used to create brand awareness and interest, with the hope of driving the consumer to a website. Once there, the consumer can make a purchase from the advertisers either online or by finding out where the product is available offline.
The current line of thinking goes thus: Joe user goes to a website for a specific reason, he sees your advert and is so interested that he will forget about that original reason and site and will simply click on your advert and go to your site. If he doesn't do this, at least he will consciously or unconsciously register your brand. This is the template that offline advertising has relied on since its inception.
Problems arise when attempting to replicate this model in an online interactive environment where users get to control the type, amount and time spent viewing the content. Online display advertising generally falls outside of any control as it served or pushed to the consumer. Consumers therefore tend to screen out and not interact with content not requested. If the click-through rate was the measure of an online ad campaign's success, we could safely say that most fail.
Luckily, an unclicked advert does not necessarily mean that a brand, message or product has gone unnoticed, but as with offline advertising, it is difficult to measure the direct value of brand awareness generation, especially on a per campaign basis.
A second form of measurement has been added to online display advertising that does not take users away from the site of origin -- interactivity. We see this with rich media banners, widgets and interactive video. Interactivity can measure interest in a product or brand but unless a user clicks through, goes to the advertiser's site and buys the product, the value of this interactivity is difficult to measure.
A recent development in technology encompasses brand awareness, interactivity and sales all in the same online advertising display unit. While this does allow for direct sales measurement and does not force the consumer to the leave their chosen environment to complete a purchase, the relationship between these transactional advertising units (non-core content) and the distribution channel and context in which they appear (core content) is crucial if a true consumer-pull model of online advertising is to be developed.
In the second part of this article next week, we will explore the importance of core and non-core content in advertising, and the use of technology to exploit the relationship between the two.
Chris Autry is CEO, Tailgate Technologies.