April 13, 2010
 

ad:tech Special: Internet Advertising & the Rebirth of the Model T.

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By Paul McEnany, director of content, li.

What made the Model T great might also have been what killed it.

As with us, what we thought made the internet great may be the thing that kills it, too. Or at least kills the traditional way of using it. Cars didn't stop progressing with the death of the Model T, nor did Ford and this shift won't kill this platform either (quite obviously).

As for the Model T - many have speculated that the lack of choice, in color among other things, was what ultimately moved the car from novelty to history. But what most don't know is that originally, Ford did actually offer color choice, but sacrificed that choice to the more quickly-drying black coat that made the revolutionary assembly line work those few seconds faster.

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And now - as "social media" takes its place in internet lore, we forget that the internet was created to be inherently social. The fundamental structure of the world wide web is the sharing of one link with another. One computer, and thus one person or group linked to another.

But as we started to figure out how to use this thing, kicked the tires and whatnot - it came to resemble something else entirely. Another distribution point for the world's information. And it was then that most of us were introduced. So most of us saw it that way, too.

And as the internet became far more important as an outlet for advertising dollars, this was further reinforced. We made banners and websites like print ads, transferred tv spots to pre-roll with little more than a file reformatting. And advertising took its role, less communicative, and thoroughly broadcasted. A messenger to many receivers.

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We're still largely judged the same way today as we were back then, too. Click through rates and hits - and the vast sum of information that always has given us more talking points than actual knowledge.

So like a teacher teaching to the test, we created to be graded. We made things too tilted towards the knowable and were shy to deliver the kinds of work that might succeed for reasons we don't quite understand or may lack the metrics we can put in a spreadsheet.

And we were too slow to learn that the things that might game the system and provide big click through rates weren't much better than the short sellers on wall street, a couple extra bucks now in exchange for a dubious future.

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We have progressed. But not all that much. Advertising spending on the web is still defined simply by what can be measured; banners, search, sponsorships, the kind of things we can know, but not so much where all the action is today. Those numbers we can know might tell you that internet advertising growth is slowing.

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But there's this whole other thing that's happened. We realized that advertising doesn't exist to support the media. Or as Rick Webb of the Barbarian Group said more eloquently than I could in response to the TechCrunch article "Why Advertising is Failing on The Internet,"

"Advertising is not failing advertisers, and it's not failing consumers. It's failing everyone who expected it to fund the whole of the internet. But advertisers are just like everyone else. Why would we pay someone (websites) for something (messages) we could get for free?"

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And he goes on to say, "you [Eric Clemons] seem to be under the impression that all advertising online is display ads, text ads, and maybe a rich media unit here or there. But the definition you give is more broad than that...Effective advertisers have already adapted to the years-old "new" reality you outline. It's more expensive than anyone hoped, it's less profitable for agencies, and it's a hell of a lot harder than everyone hoped, but the fact is it works."

And as it was with the Model T, we'll kill off this old internet in favor of turning back to something new. We'll focus on smaller interactions, less flash and lots more elbow grease. That's not to say that what we're left with won't have wheels, seats and a turn signal, but what we'll do tomorrow won't look all that similar to what we tried yesterday.

All that means is that we'll focus more on solving problems and less on creating to a metric. And in return for all those shrinking media budgets, we'll have increasing budgets to get to the business of the much more rewarding hard work. Sadly that may mean far less free drinks from this vendor or that, but those will be exchanged for an ability to use our vast resources to make companies not just look cool by telling everyone how cool they are, but by helping them to do all the cool things their customers want them to do. And that'll be pretty cool.

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