What Happened to Holidays in Interactive Advertising? Bah Humbug!

I’ve always been told that the holidays are the biggest season in advertising. It’s been a staple of the industry that the radio waves, the TV, and the billboards in Times Square are all filled with holiday cheer and blatant holiday promotions. I had originally started this column with the intent of looking at some of the current holiday promotions. Strangely enough, I found a complete lack of promotions that were holiday centric. A reload of CNN rendered ads for Groupon that proclaimed things such as “Good News! Up to 90% on local eats” and that I could get a “Free 30 day trial of Cialis for Daily Use.” The sponsored links sections on Fox, ABC, and CNN were similarly lacking any holiday ads, but instead loaded with fake blog and fake news links. This raises a few questions that I’d like to ask the industry to comment on, and brainstorm a bit on the problems and the possible solutions.

  1. Are media buyers asking for creative and interesting ideas enough? I’ve looked over some of the Q4 request for proposals from the agencies, and while some of them are holiday centric, it seems that very few ask for creativity as part of the proposal. This is interactive advertising, where the actual advertisements can integrate themselves with the sites and involve the users. Are agency buyers actually asking for sites and networks to propose ideas that go beyond a video or banner, or are we treating the industry as “one-size fits all”? If you work at an agency, can you honestly say that you approached networks, sales organizations, and properties as partners and asked them to produce campaigns that matched both the season and their properties?
  2. Are networks and properties making creative and interesting proposals? In 1998, I was pitching to agencies holiday gift guide microsites that publishers in my network could integrate into their website for a very high CPM. Are advertising networks in particular just pitching reach and banners now, ignoring the possibility of providing real strategies and innovative solutions to generate revenue for their publishers? Have sales people in our industry become experts at filling out forms instead of partners with agencies? When is the last time any ad network pitched something outside the (300×250) box for a network during the holiday season? For those who work in advertising networks in sales or management, do you feel that you did a good job pitching solutions that matched the season?
  3. Are we as an industry talking about how to be creative during the season or are we just patting each other on the back for figuring out how to use Twitter? I don’t want to call anyone out in particular, but in reading the articles in our industry from experts, columnists, and other pundits like myself, I notice a complete lack of advice dealing with holiday advertising. If we, the self-proclaimed experts of the industry, aren’t talking about it, then how do we expect the industry as a whole to learn and grow? I was reading another columnist from another publication this morning that seemed relevant and I’m pretty sure he used one of those programs that write articles for you by combining words into a new type of double-speak that could make sense. When I finally translated the 1,500 or so words into English, I learned that the holidays were good for advertising, that lots of people buy gifts, that the economy has stunk, and that 2011 will be bigger than 2010.

I’m the first one to admit that I read all those columns that talk about how to get 50 more Twitter followers, or how a certain technology resulted in a .002 percent higher click-rate. I’m a geek at heart and all the cool possibilities in interactive advertising really intrigue me. However, when the industry as a whole seems to be completely missing the immense potential of the holiday season, it makes me really wonder if we need to take a few steps back and start working on the basics of interactive advertising.

So I’m issuing a challenge to everyone in the industry, from the readers of this column to other columnists. First, to the readers: what “basic training” needs to be done in our industry to start getting more holiday dollars? What are we missing, and what did we do wrong? What do we need to learn? And to other columnists: write a column that is holiday centric and addresses specific things that can be done currently, or for next year.

And before I forget, Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, Happy Kwanzaa, and a Joyous Winter Solstice.

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