Although not a very scientific question it is a very relevant one. Over the past couple of years there has been a drop in how much is being paid per eyeball on an advertisement online. Not because the mass on the internet has become much bigger, no there is not enough return from the advertizements placed. In some cases advertizing online can even have a negative effect when done in the wrong way. What cases these effects? And an even more important question how can we do something about it?
The main reasons the revenue is dropping is not because of something that comes from the online world. It is something that comes from how we in general look at advertizements and how that has changed over the past 10 years. There have been more and more adverts on TV, the streets and anywhere else we look. So naturally over time we’ve become less and less susceptible to the suggestions that adverts are trying to make.
Next to the lowered susceptibility of people there is also the increased awareness of people in the western world. In the 80’s and 90’s were less knowledgeable about the world as media has been focusing more on knowledge. Also the internet has a large part to play in this. Before the library was one of the few sources of free information where now the internet can basically give you any type of information you would like. Because of that we take more time in looking at products before we buy it. On top of that the trend has been to be more sustainable so buy products that do not harm the environment. This takes some time to investigate things so that’s we do and what has become more natural to us.
Specifically when dealing with online marketing there is also a technical aspect, ad-blockers. Browsers plugins and programs that have become more and more sophisticated and easy to use that their usage has grown exponentially over the past 5 years. When watching TV when an advert comes on the natural response is to flip channels. Networks coordinate to make sure that when there is a commercial break all the other channels also have commercial breaks. People are getting more and more frustrated with it. Online this is dealt with by ad-blockers or simply re-loading the page.
Adverts always had their problems. Targeting is difficult because why do we want to show somebody an advert for something they are already using? And showing someone the same ad over and over again can become a frustration against the brand. Having right balance of personalization without it being shouted into the face of the person is crucial.
How to solve?
I believe that there are 4 factors that can make advertizement work again for online media: Minimalization, Personalization, Contextualization and Relevance.
Minimalization is the first one and might be the hardest one to swallow by the industry. Less adverts! We live in a world full of things trying to get our attention and with each added distraction we have less attention to give. Now we are just being spammed with hints and messages but almost none stick as we are saturated by them. By reducing the amount of messages we automatically increase the quality of the messages we do send. Although this might not work very well for the current way for how we get paid for advertizements it would give a better result overall. By reducing the amount of hits we can increase the quality of them.
Personalization changed the way adverts are done on the internet. Google famously builds persona’s and match advertizement campaigns that might spark your interest. This is all good and well but it is also a very tricky business. For example I’m looking for the “sexy” framework in the programming language Python. I would expect ads for hosting or for support, not for python patterned pants for women. And this is just a “small” oops. I might be looking for a gift for the new-born of my cousin and after that get served an advert about baby room interiors. I might not be able to have kids of my own, very painful! Personalization is one of those things that works best in moderation, use it to get a general idea of what people want but avoid making assumptions that could make the results uncomfortable.
Contextualization is not very new but online it is becoming more and more important. Together with personalization it is a powerful tool to get to our last factor. If I’m searching for snowboard movies I might be interested in buying a board myself. Maybe some clothes, a helmet and some sunglasses would also be cool. But not the underwear I bought online a couple of weeks ago. I strongly believe that context driven advertizement is THE future. One of the main reasons is that what someone is doing, watching or searching for tells a lot about their mental state. I’m looking for news so I might be interested in a news aggregation tool. I’m looking at surf videos and as it’s winter where I live I might want to go on a surfing holiday after seeing that video. Because people already set their minds to a certain subject being confronted with something in that same space is less annoying and easier to get involved with. The threshold is lower to get involved. I’m not gonna buy underwear when I’m looking at snowboarding videos. Making sure someone is primed and already in the mood by making an offer in context makes the sale so much easier.
Relevance ties together all the three other factors. Relevance is all about what is relevant to me at this time. That means that it needs to tie into who I am and what I want. It ties into what I’m doing right now making it relevant and it only comes up when I’m open to getting involved with it. For example; personally I’m a movie and series buff. I really like the screen format for story telling. So naturally I get adverts like the new “House of cards” series is online on Netflix. Interestingly for me this is non-relevant information. I’ve had the launch date for months in my calendar and have a subscription to Netflix already. So why is this not relevant? It hit’s all the markers when it comes to personality and context. The big problem is that they already have me. They are giving me an advert that will not change my behavior in any way as I’m already doing what they would like me to do. This is a waist of a opportunity to message me something relevant. Like a new series I have not heard from yet by a different service or even a product related to Netflix that could generate more revenue for them. Basically if you make an offer make sure your not offering them something they are already using. Time is also important here; Offer me a skiing holiday in April and I will probably will not buy it. Not relevant to me right now. Relevance ties personal interest, what people already do together with timing.
What is already being done?
The biggest trend in traditional media has been around for some time now. In movies, series and other places the use of product placement is now a common fact. Is it Jonny Lee Miller that is using a Microsoft Surface when sitting on a toilet representing Sherlock Holmes in the series Elementary or the next James Bond movie that uses a Aston Martin as their car. In some cases its fine and not that bad. But I’ve seen live interviews with athletes talking about Mountain Dew during an interview in a little bit over the top way that shows you how not to do it. But one of the major advantages of this type of advert is mostly that it’s not in the way. Placing a Red Bull can on the desk during an interview is not in the way. Most importantly it does not take time away from the thing I’m actually watching. And in many cases they provide context and relevance while minimizing exposure.
Online a lot of companies already do personalization. Google, Facebook, Yahoo and many other have build systems to profile users and present them with relevant adverts. However not a lot of them are good at providing context. While Google does present me with some adverts in the results many a time they are actually the thing I was looking for. Facebook has something similar but is a bit better at it by proving a lot of context to what is already going on in the feed or on the page you are looking at. Also their relevance of advertized pages is also good as they already know what users liked before. However paying for adverts on Facebook can be a hazard nowadays as there is a real hazard of getting click-farm followers that will cost you exposure to real followers. Engagement on adverts that do not link to pages seem to be solid there.
One of the main things missing in many cases is minimizing the exposure. WeTransfer has a nice “minimal” advert. Although the advert on WeTransfer is huge in size it is of high quality and made specifically to the service that the user is using. As the users are fairly particular targeting is easier and campaigns of Sonos would target most users on the site. Context is mostly given by the content of the advert and although not very “new age” in their approach they do a good job.
I think that most elements are there for this new way of doing online advertizement but the hardest part will be convincing the industry that this is the way to go. All current changes are slight ones compared to this combined package that makes for a different landscape.
What are those hazards you were talking about?
The thing I’m assuming currently is that we can mend the insensitivity that came from decades of over-exposure to adverts. Is the healing instant or has the damage been done? I haven’t found any studies into this that would point in one or the other direction. Also for this to work we cannot just reduce exposure in one of the many locations. In order for that to work we need to apply this to all areas where advertizement is applied.
Other problems are mostly tricky and not impossible to overcome. Personalizing adverts should be part of how you profile the users and providing context is a simple matter of matching information. Relevance will mostly come down to tying it together context and personalization together at the right time. Part technical and large part organizational in nature. But we have to remember to do them right!
We have too many adverts that are not properly connected to the right people at the right time. By reducing the amount of ads and making sure they are only shown to people who actually would be a potential target we can increase the quality of the exposure. This would improve the user-experience dramatically in my opinion.