CL Simplex

What Could Have Been: Online Advertising

What Could Have Been: Online Advertising

"What Could Have Been" dives into the original potential of various topics and explores where things took a dark turn. Online advertising never held much promise, let’s be honest here. Online advertising has always been terrible. If it’s not spam, then it’s a scam. According to the first site I googled, the online advertising market size is roughly 200 billion dollars. They have it projecting upwards (I wonder what that site sold? Hmm, online advertising.)

Targeted Advertising

I once got a notification for a promoted twitter account. It was a project management startup. I was very intrigued. Now - I typed in the URL in a new tab to avoid giving twitter the click, but in the end - seeing the ad generated a lead for their project. It turned out the product wasn’t a great fit. The point is that I am willing to explore things I am actually interested in. Most people are interested in targeted deals/advertising (but don’t want their privacy violated at the same time - figure it out, hippies!)

The Promise of Massive Datasets

Targeted advertising holds a lot of promise. By showing relevant and specific ads to people who might be interested - advertising starts to bring services to interested parties. Google’s massive database of consumer behaviour and the associated computing required to find trends in these datasets would appear to be the ticket - that is what Google sells companies after all. So why are ads so terrible, and why is the alignment so off?

Ads Are Terrible And Always Will Be

Advertising has always been terrible. It’s a personal belief of mine that if you wouldn’t show it during the super bowl, you shouldn’t bother at all. Most commercials are so boring and phoned in they might as well have not even tried. Advertising isn’t about selling you a specific product on a particular day. It’s about selling you a lasting brand/association - and those brands want omnipresence across media platforms. They simply don’t care about relevance. In fact in their minds, they are relevant everywhere at anytime. Coke doesn’t want to sell you a can today. Coke wants to sell you the "Coke Cola" brand for the rest of your life. They have little to no incentive to put extra resources into putting out passable creative. Also, everything has to be sanitized and homogenized until it as seen as having wide appeal. The metaphorical beef is boiled so long no one will get food poisoning - but any flavour is long gone. Even the creatives themselves sometimes lack attention to detail. Watch something with the sound off. If you still can’t piece the thin narrative together - it’s a terrible ad. Any commercial that is entertaining is played so often it returns to being a normal, annoying advertisement. While money doesn’t grow on trees - marketing spends are another story. Finally, the products are often terrible! Notice how most ads don’t even talk about the product? Like those car ads where the car runs away from monsters? Probably not a very good car. They are giving you zero tangible reason to purchase the product.

Alignment is Off

The main problem is that companies want traditional advertising in the digital space. The ford executive wants to be everywhere. Their goal is: "When the consumer thinks of cars - they’ll think of us." It’s more difficult to explain the nuance of hyper targeted marketing to an executive board - easier to just say you’re being effective with the budget. In the end - they don’t get it, or their objectives are different.

People get spooked by great alignment

People get easily creeped out by their own consumer behavioural patterns. This is especially true if they fit a larger consumer trend they are unaware of. There have been stories where maternity products were targeted at individuals who did not know they were pregnant yet. The store "knew" before they even did! Metadata and the predictability of human nature at work, folks. The fast food and cigarettes you buy on your credit card will be used to build a case against the claim your family puts in when they try and collect life insurance upon your (inevitable) death. Buy enough junk and we have a trend of an unhealthy lifestyle on your permanent record!

What could have been: Market Dialogue

This particular topic interested me because I used to work for an international advertising agency. They do good work! It gave me an interesting insight into the world of marketing - I am a terrible marketer! Anyways, it seems that advertising itself ruined advertising. The second one person is willing to spend more to get their second-rate product displayed everywhere - it ruins the promise of hyper-targeted marketing. Lorreal outbid the smaller, targeted product for the ad space - so you see women’s shampoo on a youtube clip about video games (I admit this is an entirely true story. I watch youtube videos about video games.) What could have been - an open dialogue between consumers and companies producing goods and services. You would window shop from anywhere in the world and be in direct touch with the people that make the things you love.


Tap or click on these posts to navigate to the next or previous posts.

Post Series

This post is part of a larger series. Tap or click on a post to view more in this series.