Remember the SAT you took back in high school? Try this one:
Online Advertising: Hockey
Traditional Advertising: __________
C) Figure Skating
Stumped? The answer is C) Figure Skating. Before you think I’m completely off my rocker, let me explain.
Here’s my theory, and it is a simple one if you think about it. The biggest difference between online advertising and offline advertising is in the focus. In hockey, the focus is during the game.
Sure, the players prepare for the contest, have a strategy, set up plays beforehand — but the real decision-making takes place during and after the game. Players are swapped in and out, shifted around, and plays are called. After the game, the coach analyzes what was done right and what might be improved.
Online media works in much the same way. New sites and creative can be rotated in at any time. Performance can be tracked, and playing time can be increased or decreased based on performance.
Now consider traditional advertising — specifically, print advertising. The focus is on everything up to the game. Just like figure skating, the majority of time is spent preparing for the big day. A well-choreographed plan is rehearsed — painstaking time is spent focusing on the details of the presentation. As a result, media plans are more elaborate — citing demographics, statistics about buying behavior, frequency vs. reach, and so on — because that’s where the real decision-making takes place.
Once the insertion order is signed, a media planner’s work is essentially done. The IO goes to account service, and it’s just a matter of getting the materials to the printer on time — and hoping that nothing goes wrong in the process.
Reading this, you might surmise that online media plans are virtually worthless, and online statistical tools offer little value. But that’s not entirely true.
Just like hockey players practice and have plays they work on, online media plans serve as a vital road map for the client to follow. Online media plans focus less on persuasion, more on education.
One nice thing about online media is that it allows for more freedom at the advertiser level. It’s much easier to convince a client to try out a “rookie” site, because it can be removed from the roster after two weeks if it’s not performing.
Traditional advertising, on the other hand, does not allow such flexibility. Barriers to entry are much greater, and there is really no room to test a non-performer.
In hockey, things can happen and the game can still be won. A player might get a penalty and be taken out for a while. The other team might score a couple of shots.
Banner ads are similar — a site may go down for a couple of hours or stop serving impressions. But these problems are usually temporary, and can be fixed before it’s too late.
With a print ad, you may get only one shot. Like figure skating — if someone gets dropped on the ice, it’s all over. Sure, there may be another day or a chance to make good, but sometimes campaigns can’t wait that long.
In figure skating, you might get a rotten score, even though you executed the plan flawlessly. Similarly, traditional advertising offers little control over the outcome. Everything could add up on paper, but the actual response to your ad might be less than expected.
Online media, on the other hand, offers more control. If you don’t like what’s happening, you can quickly change your strategy or try pummeling the other team. (Not that I’d ever want to pummel my sales reps, but occasionally, one or two might deserve a body check!)
Finally, you might notice a difference in the appearance. Traditional sales reps are professional. They present formal plans and PowerPoint presentations. They take you to lunch to discuss the plans. They are well-versed in the art of sales. Like figure skaters, they are well-manicured, expert performers.
Online sales reps are a little different. They are missing teeth. They have scars. They fight a lot. (Okay, maybe this is a stretch.) But they do have sideburns, stay up all hours of the night, and almost never actually meet you in person. Their strengths are in speed and reflexes.
(Disclaimer: There are many traditional reps that can turn a proposal around quickly, and there are many online reps who are excellent salespeople.)
What will be interesting to see is the effect that online media has in reshaping traditional media. Already, many companies are beginning to track their offline media with online methods. For example, they might ask site visitors how they heard about them: 1) TV 2) Online 3) Radio, etc. Or they might set up a special URL to track responses to different magazine ads – like using different 1-800 numbers.
In the coming years, as “new media” just becomes “media,” I believe more and more traditional advertisers will begin to think in online terms. But I don’t think we’ll ever see a complete fusion between the two schools of thought. That would be like asking the figure skaters to play hockey.
And vice versa. Ouch.