The Dimensionality of Nothing

At this very moment, billions of people are ignoring ad banners all over the Web. In fact, as a rule many more people are ignoring ads than are clicking on them. It’s been this way since this whole dog-and-pony show started.

To some that may seem negative — glass half empty and all that — but it’s a reality of any advertising method. More people don’t see your ads than see them.

Obviously, when you start scaling that ratio the perceived waste isn’t so bad. What you do is start focusing on the ads people interact with more than the ones people didn’t interact with.

We may believe that in some way, it’s a form of denial, but the organizational principle is as old as civilization. Democracy is built on it.

Let’s fast-forward to the Internet, sometimes known as the great democratizer, a moniker that defines the power of access that technology has given the world. That may be true, but the democratic idea of a vote and the advertising version of a vote (a click or an impression) are very different.

Clicks are as old as direct marketing. You see an ad or offer that invites you to take action, you take action (usually a purchase), and you’re done. Ad impressions are as old as advertising; you see and ad, it registers in your brain in some way, and done.

Online advertising has shattered the traditional notion of an ad impression. In fact, we’ve taken the whole idea of advertising and, by virtue of the power of interactivity, blown it into a thousand measurable bits.

Look at it this way: in the span of 1 second, if all the available online inventory were displayed, you’d be talking about maybe 1 trillion impressions. (If you can come up with a better number, e-mail me.)

Say of those 1 trillion impressions, 30 percent of them were rich media. Of these 300 billion rich media impressions, about 20 percent of the rich ads were interacted with for a total of 60 billion interaction sessions.

What if after using the ad, none of these 60 billion people did anything? No site visit, no e-mail, no registration, no download. Nothing, nada, zilch.

Before we get to that possible answer, let’s take a moment to reflect on what some online marketers still think about online: not much. Compared to all the tactile and learned elements of marketing they’re exposed to, for some reason it still doesn’t register.

What about a TV spot that plays during some droll, late night show? What if your print ad is adjacent to a page with a half-nude person on it? Does anyone notice that ad?

The naysayers are entitled to their opinion. But if online isn’t working, what is? TV? If you had the same opinion about TV as you did about online, it would be a very costly waste of time.

Alas, history tells us TV advertising does work. It’s been lauded, evangelized, and proven, many times over. If I were a data scientist, none of that argument would make sense. If I were a behavioral scientist, it would be easy to believe.

So if no one plays with your super-charged, interactive, whiz-bang expandable rich media whatchamacallit, does it exist?

What exists at this point is simple: the interaction.

Our ability to value interaction is the most immature part of online advertising. Yes, we can measure, but what are we measuring? Yes, we can serve billions of impressions, but do they work?

When rich advertising came onto the scene, these arguments started to become less clear. We online marketers must start sharpening our pencils and begin rationalizing the value of an interaction.

Some industry groups are starting to do that. The sooner the better, I say. More and more distractions will keep us from a truer definition of online advertising’s value.

The truth is that creating the best online advertising experience isn’t akin to chasing a unicorn through Shangri-La. It’s more like building a garden, one in which you take all the elements into focus, even the ones you don’t usually think about, and start to watch and learn.

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