More Than a Wrong Feeling

Sometimes when you look at something long enough, you realize you may have been missing the most obvious things about it.

Recently I was watching a TV show that gave me a great sense of pause (and no, it didn’t have anything to do with “The Da Vinci Code”)! I can’t remember what the show was called, but it had to do with how an ancient culture respected one form of communication over another in its sacred ceremonies.

Strange as it seems, what struck me was a premise that seemed to resonate with how we judge what’s good about online advertising.

Now this isn’t one of my treatises about rich media metrics or a theological discussion about the spiritual chasm that is advertising. I’ve said enough about the former to have carefully avoided the reality of the latter.

What came to mind was maybe we aren’t capable of understanding the cumulative effect rich online ads have on people. Face it, they’ve only been around for a few years. Prior to that, we had nearly a century of offline advertising.

The offline world has added many great sayings to the lexicon: “Where’s the beef?” “Tastes great, less filling,” “Whassup?” and the list goes on. Like it or not, these lyrical thoughts shaped our culture and, therefore, our context for what’s considered wit and humor among the masses.

When you look at the growing number of rich ads out there, you can’t help but think of the cumulative impact of attention and expectation developing in the minds of Web users everywhere.

When we look at a recent Ameritrade ad created by OgilvyOne, we can see how the idea of engagement, interaction, and reward that I’ve outlined in a previous column.

That said, we must understand a few things about the success of ads like this and how an ad that’s highly engaging and immersive should be valued. One thing to note here is the ad has no particular tagline or catchy phrase to recall. Apart from the Easter egg moment of the dancing biker, most of the other content is entertaining but without the intent of a single, focused moment.

What will users recall about this ad?

Isn’t recall a more powerful lever in getting people to truly act? Yes. But now there are so many options for the user to experience that the need to make all of them memorable in some way is quite challenging.

In our search for a new way of defining what the value of an ad experience is online, we may be in jeopardy of missing something bigger.

The tools online advertisers use are powerful; video, games, apps, chat, and access to data are compelling ingredients in the rich ad experience. But they remain just that, ingredients. The art of the ensemble is key to understanding how an ad should be cooked and how each element can compliment each other in the user experience.

And we mustn’t forget the main ingredient: users. What are their feelings and opinions, and how do they become a compelling part of the experience? If you take a look at what technology can do to connect people on even the most intimate thoughts, it’s becomes strangely compelling and a powerful tool for an advertiser.

While technology improves with endless refinements in online advertising progress, we could be changing the psychological platform of advertising itself. That’s why the present tense of online advertising is somewhat ironic; today’s problems can be solved tomorrow.

Are we headed for the final solution of the ultimate ad experience? Are we creating some divine form of advertising? Is online advertising the panacea? That day may come, but in some ways I hope it never arrives. The journey seems a lot more interesting than the destination ever will be.

Meet Dorian at Online Video Advertising Forum in New York City, June 16, 2006.

Related reading