In Response to “A Dose of Reality”

| Industry

Yesterday, MediaPost published a piece by Ari Rosenberg titled “A Dose of Reality.” He writes, “It’s official: online advertising is schizophrenic. We are 19 years old and we don’t know who we are.”

There is no doubt in my mind that Ari Rosenberg is correct in saying that our industry is schizophrenic. And isn’t that precisely what we’d expect from a 19-year old? Did you know who you were at 19? Ari dishes five doses of reality in an effort to help us solve this identity crisis; let’s take a look at them.

1. “We don’t sell banners”
I agree with the spirit here, but I think we’re splitting hairs if we say banners are only the original 468×90 unit and now we sell display ads. Definitions are not as important as perception, and the term “banners” is still used in industry conversations and on insertion orders every day. And whatever you call them, Ari is right that they add communication value, but I argue that the value is diminished everyday and is gradually approaching zero. We shouldn’t kill off the banner, but we must recognize that ad clutter in the digital landscape means that advertisers need to think about more impactful digital ad formats to complement banner messaging.

2. “Everything starts with clicks”
While we should be looking less and less at a metric like CTR, there is no doubt that clicks are still important and valuable. However, let’s not forget that a consumer could see a digital ad, remember its message and take action later without ever recording a click. That doesn’t mean that the click itself has no value. Instead we need to understand the overall consumer response, including clicks, views (and view throughs) and response (such as awareness and intent.) Together these lead to a more accurate measure of successful ad units.

3. “Native advertising is bullshit”
I have to respectfully disagree here. Sure, as we know it and see it today, it may actually be BS, but there is absolutely a future here. Maybe it shouldn’t be called “native,” but conceptually, any sponsored or advertiser created content (or placement) can absolutely work. For example, why wouldn’t I trust a chef from Kraft who hosts or participates in a cooking program? Yes, I can “smell it immediately,” but I can also react to it positively. Most consumers today are smart enough to separate the sponsorship themselves—but they also realize that something sponsored can still be perfectly valuable. The fact that a recipe is “sponsored” by Kraft doesn’t diminish the value of a good recipe. The key, of course, is making sure the sponsored content actually is valuable. 

And if you don’t think there’s an entire unexplored frontier in “native,” spend twelve minutes watching Steve Rubel, Chief Content Officer at Edelman, define the future.

4. “You can’t be a little bit pregnant”
Channel conflict for publishers is certainly a problem. This is a healthy tension, though, that can and will continue. But as Ari says, let’s be honest about it and address the challenges instead of ignoring them. Secondary sales channels are critical to so many media properties and can become even stronger if used properly instead of blindly. 

5. “Who we really are”
There’s no doubt that digital is neither a pure direct response medium nor a pure branding vehicle. At the same time, at age 19, we’re still finding ourselves, and that’s OK. If we’re still finding ourselves in another 5-10 years that will be a problem, but we are at that tipping point and we are finding our identity. Regardless of that identity, it is, as Ari says, our sureness of who we really are that will make our medium explode. I, for one, am excited to be a part of that identity and the soon–to-come explosion.


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