The Devolution of Online Advertising

My last column pondered whether online video is an ’80s porn star waiting to crash and burn under the weight of its own celebrity. For some it’s unbelievable, what with all this hoo-ha around YouTube and its cousins, that we’re seeing signs of a crash.

Technology has provided some amazing latitude for humanity in recent decades. Admittedly, I talk a lot about how this catalyst is a double-edged sword, mostly for the good.

We live in a world that’s overstimulated by millions of inputs, yet we seldom look around to see if things are actually getting better.

Why do we take for granted the fact most of us drive cars, pay tolls and parking fees, and use electricity and water, yet seldom consider we’re using up natural resources?

Why does technology encourage constant upgrades, complete with built-in obsolescence?

Where do online marketers get off thinking their world will increase exponentially?

Why do users constantly shift and change within and around new communication forms fueled by technology?

Why does everyone like Paris Hilton? No matter what she does?

The answer: consuming media is now a human function, not a preference. We seem to be addicted to any stimulus, news, video, games, gossip, and all forms of humiliation and degradation we find palatable to consume.

Some call this mess of conflicts our inevitable reality, a balanced anarchy.

What can we do to ensure common forms of communication aren’t compromised by money, sex, greed, and stardom?

OK, I don’t have that answer. But there are some things we can do to keep the euphoria-driven flood of video content from overshadowing the value of online advertising:

  • Keep an eye on the user. The magnetism of instant celebrity is as fleeting as a passing cloud. Users watch things, but online they can do things. Stimulate the doing. The watching will happen with very little effort.

  • Make measurement deeper. Interactions can be counted down to a very granular level. A rollover can indicate a lot of things relative to an ad’s success or failure. Don’t be afraid to want to know what small actions contribute to the whole.

    For a rich banner campaign for an entertainment client, we tracked the rollover interactions that triggered audio. The words were verbal exclamations directly from the movie we were advertising. In five days, the audio files were triggered 11 million times. The impact can be great in a branding sense if you’ve got great content and an easy way to make it happen.

    Start small, pick a simple form of interactions to measure, then expand from there. Otherwise, you risk getting lost in details.

  • Trust in testing. Increasing concentric circles of scope for testing remains a cost-effective way to understand what sticks. Be careful not to let this drive your entire marketing vision. The user who responds well to a rich online ad may not care about your product. Make sure tracking follows through to a transaction or some equivalent representation of a salient goal.
  • Keep creative fresh. From exploding popcorn banners to dancing silhouettes, you must be aware of banners’ extreme burnout factor. That doesn’t mean changing it every week or when click rates go down, just keep an eye on the irritation factor. Think of how plot twists make a TV show interesting.

Maybe we’ll see the snowstorm of controversy and attention subside over video. I hope so. We have so much to learn about what a simple interaction is and what it can mean to a brand or service.

Meet Dorian at the ClickZ Specifics: Online Video Advertising seminar on March 19 at the San Francisco Marriott in California.

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