Defining the Medium

Blame it on the fact that we were both raised by schoolteachers and were trained with a strong respect for the power of language. Or perhaps it’s because the Internet world is exhausting enough, without making even the simple things difficult. Or maybe, in our wish for eventual standardization in this newly formed medium, we’d like to start with some standards in the meanings of words.

Whatever the reason, we are hereby declaring war on the lax use of language in this industry. Let’s demand some clarity of meaning so we can understand what we are all talking about!

We are tired of hearing such terms as sponsorships, advertising, banners, and email marketing used indiscriminately, as if the speaker were making up new meanings for each. When a new industry borrows language from those businesses that have come before, it’s reasonable to expect that the meanings share some historical perspective as well. But we find that reason is often ignored in the make-it-up-as-we-go-along world of the Internet.

So let’s start with the big picture. What is advertising, anyway? Webster’s definition of advertising is “the action of calling something to the attention of the public especially by paid announcements.”

The key is that advertising generally refers to all paid messages to an audience. That means that banners, buttons, sponsorships, special packages, email newsletters, and every other form of paid marketing messages on a web site or coming from a web site are all advertisements.

Despite the simple definition of the word advertising, for some odd reason lots of Internet folks think online advertisements equal banners. Period. Frequently, these are the folks who tend to be disparaging about banners and think all other forms of ads are somehow superior and “not really advertisements.” (“We don’t take advertising on our site because it’s annoying to our users. We only do sponsorships.”)

If you are in an ad-based business, please don’t let yourself be lulled into this kind of sloppy and elitist thinking. It might make you feel better about your site’s mission (though we don’t know why it should), but it doesn’t change your overall objective, which is to create an environment and attract an audience that someone will pay to reach. You can certainly think about the different forms your ads can take, but let’s not rewrite the dictionary on what is and is not an ad!

Over the next few weeks, we are hoping to start a conversation about terminology and the appropriate definition and usage of key words we all employ in Internet marketing. We’d love to hear your pet peeves and your favorite definitions. We want to know which words are unclear to you, so we can attempt to clarify things. And, of course, we want to hear from those of you who agree and those who don’t! with the meanings we are proclaiming.

With any luck, we’ll use the loyal and involved ClickZ readers to establish what these words really mean, so we can all begin to understand each other.

For next week, we’d love your thoughts on how you define buttons, advertorials, sponsored content, opt-in lists, and dynamic vs. static ads.

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