It’s A Two-Way Street

Advertising Interactively
By Rob Graham
207pp. LearningCraft Press. $19.95.

It’s going to take a while to figure out this whole online advertising thing. While marketers have been using the Internet as a marketing medium for the better part of a decade, the rules are still in flux. Just launching an effective online campaign is daunting enough, let alone agreeing on issues like best practices.

Adding to the corpus of our online advertising knowledge comes Rob Graham’s thoughtful new book Advertising Interactively. As a practitioner, Graham is clearly sensitive to the subtleties of the Internet game. Too often, traditional advertising hacks simply try to transfer their tactics online, with predictable results.

Above all, Graham deserves kudos for clearly making the case that online advertising is not the same as traditional marketing. While that may seem absurdly obvious, it’s astonishing how many marketers fail to grasp that simple truth. As a wise man said, common sense isn’t all that common.

To vastly simplify Graham’s arguments, the Internet is a “lean forward” medium. When online, surfers are actively doing something. They’re looking for things like information and entertainment, or attempting to communicate. Anything impeding those activities, such as advertising, is considered a nuisance.

In contrast, old advertising stalwarts like TV and radio are “lean back” media. People want to relax and simply allow prime time programs or drive time radio shows wash over them. Advertising is considered part of the social contract that allows free programming.

Is it any surprise then that banner ad clickthroughs have fallen to imperceptible levels? Or that pop-up ads now rank alongside telemarketing as the most reviled form of marketing? If nothing else, the dismal performance of these tactics has been instructive.

What’s the solution? Again, to state the obvious, the answer is acknowledging that the Internet is an interactive medium and to market accordingly. Simply slinging banner ads, even in new and improved jumbo formats, solves little. Despite dubious assertions that large, static banner ads have brand-building power, the enterprising marketer takes that with a grain of salt and pursues more promising options.

The solution Graham clearly favors is rich media. Put simply, rich media is online advertising with all the bells and whistles, including “animation, audio, video, and text in an interactive framework.” Anyone who has spent even a few minutes online is undoubtedly familiar with rich media advertising, and hopefully realizes it’s an improvement over banners and buttons.

The potential downside to rich media advertising, which Graham dutifully acknowledges, is that jazzed-up advertising slows download times and can play havoc with browsers. As bandwidth increases and technology improves, those problems will diminish. The question then is, what will be the next big thing in online marketing?

Graham deadpans: “If there is one thing that is certain about the future of online advertising, it is that it will change.”

Can’t argue with that.

Jonathan Jackson is an independent consultant based in New York City. He has written extensively on internet advertising and email marketing since the inception of the internet. A frequent guest speaker, Jonathan has addressed global audiences on marketing and advertising topics and also teaches marketing at colleges around the world.

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