April 23rd, 2008

The Future Of Online Advertising: Entertainment vs. Information


There are two principal ways advertisers are trying to create value for consumers on the web — and they must create value because, you know, consumers are in control. On the web, advertisers can provide entertainment or information.

How effective is advertising as information on the web? See Google’s $15B in ad revenue — an $5.19 billion in ad revenue in Q1 2008. The technology of web search enabled advertisers to create value for consumers in a way that was never possible in analogue media.

Searching for a product or service? Here’s a link to information on that product or service. The value proposition to consumers is so perfect, so pure, that it took years for Madison Avenue to realize that Google had created billions of dollars in advertising value right under their noses. It’s hard work winning Clio awards — who has time to think about at these silly little text ads?

But that Clio-award winning creativity is finally starting to focus its attention on the web, and just as with every TV spot that you’ve ever TiVoed past, Madison Avenue wants to entertain you.

With a 30-second TV commercial the worst that advertising creatives could do was waste your time or insult your intelligence. But now Madison Avenue has discovered digital technology. And like every web design who ever made something flash on a page just because they could (where are my teflon sunglasses?), ad creatives are harnessing the full power of web applications and the web’s snarky wild west ethos.

Why? Well, because they can.

Take for example this Toyota ad, which I’ve seen many times on Technorati, but could never quite figure out:

How is this a Toyota ad, you ask? That quandary is just the tip of the iceberg. When you click on the ad (go ahead and click above), having proven yourself to be a curious young male, here’s what you find (click on this or any other image in this post to see the full image):

Would you like to play a trick on a friend? Well, I wouldn’t have clicked on the pub fighting ad if I wasn’t a slow-witted curious young male, so of course I say Yes!

Here’s the text – you have to read it:

At this point it’s not clear to me that this is an “ad” that enables you to play a cruel practical joke on a friend, or whether the ad itself is a cruel practical joke.

But it gets better:

So this is an “ad” for a car — no, really, a car — inviting you to enter personal information for yourself and for a friend. Having proven myself to be a truly slow-witted male, I figure why not go all the way and read the terms and conditions. Here I find some of the true gems of this “ad” (bold is there’s — my emphasis is in italics):

Representations: You warrant and represent that: (a) the names, cities, states, gender, e-mail addresses and mobile phone numbers (as well as any other information) you identified to us for yourself and/or any of the designated Invited Users are accurate, complete, and valid for the identified individual; (b) you are the sole and exclusive owner of each photograph and recordings of yourself that you uploaded to this website and all rights therein; (c) you have the full and exclusive right, power, and authority to submit all of the photograph(s) and recording(s), and to grant us the right to make any recordings of you, and to grant us the rights to all of the photograph(s) and recordings herein granted upon the terms and conditions set forth herein; (f) all of your photograph(s) and recorded personal messages are in keeping with our image and are not offensive or otherwise violate any part of these Terms; (g) your photograph(s) and recorded personal messages does not defame or invade publicity rights or privacy of any person, living or deceased, or otherwise infringe upon any person’s personal or property rights or any other third party rights; (h) if your photograph appears to endorse Lexus, Toyota, or Scion brand vehicles or any TMS/USA Entities, and/or imply any association with any TMS/USA Entities or our business, you consent to such appearance of endorsement and/or association, and if a third party appears to endorse, or be associated with, Lexus, Toyota or Scion brand vehicles, TMS/USA Entities or our business, you have obtained the express written consent of such third party to such endorsement and/or association (and, if requested to do so, can produce such written consent in a form and manner acceptable to us); and (i) if any photograph contains persons other than yourself or third party elements not owned by you, you have obtained express written consent to submit such photograph and allow it to be used in the manner contemplated by these Terms from each and every person depicted in the photograph and each and every owner of any third party element, and, if requested to do so, can produce such written consent in a form and manner acceptable to us (and in particular, if any minor is depicted in any photograph, you have obtained the express written consent of the minor’s parent or legal guardian to submit such photograph and allow it to be used in the manner contemplated in these Terms).

Grant of Rights: You grant to us and our designees an exclusive, worldwide, perpetual, irrevocable, royalty-free, sub-licensable right to use your name, e-mail address, photograph(s) and/or recorded personal message(s), and any information you provided to us regarding any Invited User, in connection with The Other You experience and send any and all such information, photograph(s) and/or recorded personal message(s) to the Invited Users you designate and others to facilitate this entertainment activity. Further, you understand that, although not intended, there may be an unintended release of such information and/or items to the public, and you waive (and agree never to assert) any and all claims you may have with respect to such unintended release. By submitting any information and/or materials herein, you forever waive and agree never to assert, any copyrights, “moral” rights, or other rights that you may have in any materials or information provided hereunder.

This “entertainment activity”

This, my friends, is advertising as entertainment on the web.

So what does advertising as information look like in the same market? Try a search for “best hatchbacks” (the Toyota Matrix is a hatchback — no that this is relevant to the entertainment activity mind you).

Looking to play a cruel practical joke on a friend? No? Just shopping for a hatchback? Dude, you don’t get out much.

So you click on the Honda ad and here’s where you land:

Photos of the car. Features. Specs. Accessories. MSRP. Build your own. Find a dealer. Compare vehicles. Request a quote. Estimate payments.

You’ve gotta be kidding me! Are you trying to sell a car? What are you thinking!?! Where’s the ENTERTAINMENT?

So what is the future of online advertising?

Darned if I know. Ask the Other Me. He’s got it all figured out.

  • Scott... you're definitely onto something, but you haven't followed the evolution of the ad far enough.

    You're right the text ads are fantastic. They are fantastic for direct response.

    The pub-fighting app you reviewed is more of a brand advertisement. The advertiser thinks that their demographic will respond to this kind of "fun". Whether you think it's fun or not, likely there is an audience for it.

    But you stopped short on your journey... just because many brand marketers are creating these "distractions" and "infotainment" sites doesn't mean they won't evolve beyond that.

    The real holy grail is creating an online experience that users come back to organically and that is positively associated with your brand. IMHO the best example of this today is Nike. They have created the Nike+ suite of online services that are both useful for their target audience (runners in this case) and an effective brand "advertisement". Nike is dedicating a huge chunk of their consumer marketing going forward to developing these types of services.

    What does this mean? It means that eventually, the big brand marketers (who represent even more money than the direct response business that google dominates) are going to become web software developers/publishers (or at least financiers).

    This is the true destination of advertising on the web. Right now these folks are sponsoring (sometimes) useful widgets. Eventually they'll all graduate to full blown branded apps.

    (Full disclosure: this is what our company does. we try to create cool online experiences that are useful, beautiful, possibly entertaining, and eminently brandable. Our first three are already out there and we're working on more.)

  • I was a bit freaked out by this ad. I wasn't going to send it to a friend--because I have no idea what it did.

    ps. the City Paper in Nashville is **massively** switching to web--only 2 print publications a week. (sorry if you've already read or covered the story)

  • I agree with Beth. While I see your point Scott (and love your Clio/text link line), Google ads work best for people who know what they want. The car industry (and many others), however, are built on convincing people to buy things they don't yet know they want. This is where the more entertaining variety comes in (not that I'm saying the Toyota ads, or just about any other online display advertising, are any good).

    What's more, Google et al. are fundamentally different media properties than anything advertisers have used in the past. Never has their been such a good opportunity to get inside the head of a consumer and understand exactly where they are in the purchase process (even point of sale needs to do more selling).

  • *Pull, not push sorry

  • Text ads are just the beginning. Google's adsense is as much about relevance as it is about push-advertising.

    Next steps? VRM...

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