Relax. It’s Only Interactive

Maybe it’s the end-of-year rush, the impending holiday season, or the vision of my imminent drive up to sunny Albany, NY, in killer Thanksgiving traffic, but I’m feeling a bit annoyed. Peevish, even. So you can imagine how I became a bit agitated when I read this new report from the American Advertising Foundation (AAF).

In a new survey of advertising industry leaders, the AAF discovered many top ad biz executives are “worried” about new media. They express doubts about the effectiveness of advertising in such staples as blogs, podcasts, and Web-enabled cell phones. They report remaining “bullish” on the ad industry, however, and said they expect online advertising spending to increase.

What year is this, anyway? When I first read the report, I had to check the date to make sure I wasn’t reading an archived attitudinal survey from 1995. It’s hard to believe with at least a decade of online advertising under their belts, these “top” executives are still nervous about new media.

Rather than fume about it, I asked myself why. Why are these folks still skeptical about a medium that’s more measurable, accountable, and targetable than any other medium? After all, the report states, “traditional advertising challenges remain major industry concerns, such as demonstrating ROI [and] creating ideas that break through the clutter.”

Even if you disregard traditional online advertising and look at the more non-traditional online media mentioned in the report, such as blogs and podcasts, nervousness seems a bit misplaced. Online video, for example, is considered fairly non-traditional, yet comScore reports 94 million Americans viewed online video in June 2005. The same company also reports 50 million Americans visited blogs during Q1 2005. That’s a lot of folks, but from an advertising standpoint, the comScore survey also found “compared to the average Internet user, blog readers are significantly more likely to live in wealthier households, be younger and connect to the Web on high speed connections.” They also “visit nearly twice as many web pages as the Internet average, and they are much more likely to shop online.”

Sounds like the ideal target market to me. If I were advertising to those people, I wouldn’t feel so nervous.

Other non-traditional online media seem to fair pretty well, too. A JupiterResearch study released in August found 89 percent of XML/RSS (define) users regularly buy online, followed by 77 percent of blog readers and 69 percent of podcast listeners. Compare this to the baseline of 62 percent of Internet users, and aficionados of non-traditional, or new, media start to look like a pretty juicy audience.

Worried about tracking? Getting stats on streaming video ads is pretty easy, and you don’t have to worry about consumers “TiVoing” over your ads (something top ad execs worry about, according to the AAF). Even stuff as apparently anxiety-producing as podcast advertising is now trackable, thanks to companies such as Podtrac. Viral marketing (undoubtedly another advertising method causing beads of sweat to form on the exquisitely waxed upper lips of Madison Avenue corner-office holders) can be tracked using services such as those offered by BuzzMetrics and DMC.

Why the nervousness? Obviously, anything relatively new causes anxiety in anyone, particularly those in a business that’s been doing things pretty much the same way for decades. No one wants to look like they don’t know what they’re doing or to make a mistake due to inexperience. Even something as “normal” as SEM (define) has its share of unsophisticated users, a fact JupiterResearch reported in late ’04. Tried and true is, well, tried and true. New stuff is scary.

I expect there’s another level, one many of us in the biz won’t own up to: online marketing isn’t sexy. It isn’t glamorous, has little cultural mythology around it (would “Bewitched” have worked if Larry Tate and Darren Stevens were search engine marketers?), and isn’t something that necessarily captures the public imagination.

Traditional ad creatives (in my experience) seem to hate online marketing. Just look at the faces of your traditional creative team next time you ask them to design a banner. Budgets are lower, production times are compressed, there are no multi-week expense-account-fueled post-production bacchanals, and your mom’s not likely to tell you how proud she is of your new Flash ad (though she would if she saw your spot on TV). Oh, and you rarely get to fly to exotic locations for shoots. Don’t forget that.

The evidence is there: online advertising works. New media work. People watch them, consume them, and interact with them. They’re trackable, measurable, and provide the most realistic way to measure ROI (define).

If that makes you nervous, it should.

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