Who sees the future of brands on the Internet the best? Frankly, nobody can be sure. But I have two favorites that I have come across in the last few months, namely David Payne, Chief Executive and Co-Founder of Short Tail Media, and Yves Darbouze, CEO & Creative Director of pLot Multimedia. While each have different perspectives on advertising on the web (in fact completely opposite) I think both of them are correct and complementary.
Payne on New Ad Formats
I heard Payne speak this February at the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s annual meeting in Orlando; just this month his firm has come out with a new ad unit, the D30, that puts a commercial on web pages. Payne, who worked at Turner Broadcasting and Turner Sports, makes one of the more important points in the Internet advertising industry. Clicks are destructive.
“Despite all the possibilities,” said Payne, “we are still using clicks as a measure of value.”
Clicks are not only destructive of the brand, all they do is help advertisers to beat down the price of advertising. In addition, it causes content to go for the lowest common denominator. “We are telling advertisers,” he said, “the worse content, the more you should pay.”
He believes advertisers need to look to simplification of advertising formats to make it easier to buy. However, he asserts, simplification should not turn the ads into commodities. Instead, brand advertising might be helped by limiting the number of ads, or developing smarter ad pricing strategies that sell demographics, not eyeballs.
To solve the issue, he says that the industry needs to look backward to the beginning of television, and look at the “history of what works.” His model? Sylvester “Pat” Weaver, founder of the Today and Tonight shows on NBC. Weaver pushed forward the idea of the 30 and 60 second commercial, wresting television programming away from the ad agencies who brokered large blocks of time on the networks. His big question for the Internet advertising industry? “Where is our Pat Weaver when you need him?”
I found myself agreeing with him, not only because he mentioned Pat Weaver, who is my hero, but because he understood clicks. In print and in television, the “per inquiry” ad is the lowest form of advertising, and only reserved for remnant space. Part of the problem online is that because barriers to entry are so low, advertisers have had a wide variety of options. Not only is ad inventory theoretically infinite, the ease of placing it is easy too.
Back to the Soap Opera
Meanwhile, Yves Darbouze of pLot Multimedia has a slightly different, but complementary idea of the future of advertising on the internet. It needs to stop putting “ads” on the internet. Darbouze, who advised Obama’s campaign on social media, runs an interactive agency that plans, develops, hosts and maintains their own social networks and social media applications. The company then markets them to the brands.
I interviewed Darbouze this spring by phone. His idea is to look at what network television and radio did in its early days for models to see what companies should do. Companies are all talking social media, but they are faced with a series of fads (MySpace, Facebook, Twitter) and the knowledge that some of the social media efforts don’t have exact payoffs. His answer? To look backward to the early days of the networks when agencies created their own programs for advertisers like Proctor & Gamble. The idea? “To create new soap operas, maybe functionality.”
He says that brand advertising, while traditionally focused on advertisements, should instead focus online on being “people aggregators.” While brands are doing this, he says they are doing this within their own brands, and not stepping out into neutral territory. For instance, he mentions NikePlus. First, and strategically, he says he would have called it something not about Nike (Runners Plus?) in order to not alienate the Adidas, Puma and Converse crowd. Then, you would own potential customers that you don’t already have.
He’s got a point. For instance, before MySpace was the rage, he talked to Universal about a music concept called My People, where artists could promote themselves. But Universal was not ready to talk and sell directly to the consumer, and others had the same idea. “They could have built this site,” he said. “They had all of the artists.”
Major brand advertisers want to promote their brands, and rightfully so. But many online “hit” internet sites are really just commercials, and that’s not quite the right direction. They get a flood of hits, and then there is nothing to come back to.
Both agree on clicks. Darbouze cites his seven-year-old daughter, who likes to Tivo and is careful what she clicks on. Just putting some click-able ads is not going to work for that generation, says Darbouze. “It’s going to take you off the site,” she says to him.
Said Darbouze, “If there is a way to make the product be a part of the activity, you’ve won.”