Yahoo, Microsoft and AOL (let’s call them YAM) plan to share unsold premium display ads to “appeal directly to Madison Avenue’s desire for scalable reach – something that has been increasingly hard to come by via TV, but not yet achievable online,” according to an article in Media Post.
The story reminded me of the effort during World War II to build bigger and bigger bombs. At the start of that war, 500-pound bombs were the standard. As conflict continued, 2-ton, 5-ton, and even 10-ton bombs were developed. But as it turned out, the secret to ending the fighting did not reside in a heavier bomb, but in a single atom.
The YAM deal will undoubtedly yield some results – just as bigger bombs made bigger holes during World War II. But it doesn’t hold much long-term promise, in my opinion. The big Madison Avenue agencies persist in trying to reshape the Web into another mass media choice. They talk about scalable reach and CPMs – vestiges of the days when reach was measured by audiences, large groups, markets and households. The world of concentrated media is changing to one of fragmented, personal media. If Moammar Gadhafi were still alive, you could ask him.
The Web doesn’t easily fit any of these parameters. It is, and always has been, a personal medium, more like a letter than a magazine. As users move their online reception from static computers to portable tablets and smart phones, the personal nature of the Web becomes more prominent while the mass communications side of it continues to wither.
Thirty years ago, when PCs were first gaining a foothold among consumers, a debate raged over whether people who couldn’t program computer code would ever use them. That debate has long since been settled. The debate now is whether people who don’t use spreadsheets and word processors – the bulwark of the static desktop – will use computers. I submit that the immediate and growing demand for tablets has settled that argument as well.
Most of what we use computers for can easily be done with smart phone or iPad apps, which are also more fun to use. They’re cheap, they have no learning curve to speak of, and when we are done with them they can be erased without qualm. Sure, there are work-related apps we can download as well, including some that can link us to desktops for “serious” computing. Some of us will continue to want and need these. Most of us will not.
The chart shows where local online ad spending is most likely to migrate as these trends persist and grow. It’s not that advertisers will stop sending ads to stationary computers. It’s just that most ads will be received by mobile devices.
Advertising to mobile device users follows different rules than the ones set up for the mass media we have all learned to use. In fact, it won’t be advertising any more – at least not entirely. It will be a mixture of advertising and promotions that appeals to individuals, not mass audiences.
Some marketing innovators will learn the new rules and thrive in this new media world. Some, like the Madison Avenue agencies of today, will try to bend the world back to a mass audience model. The chart offers a clue as to how well this might work.