Late October will mark the 25th anniversary of advertising on the Web. Having been part of the team that ushered in those first primitive digital ads in 1994, I'll be using this space in the intervening weeks to explore the fulfillment, failure and future of the web's marketing and social promise. This week: The impact of digital on the practice of advertising.
As Internet Advertising started to find its legs in 1995-96, there was a fair bit of handwringing among those who took it's still-uncertain future seriously. Like the re purposed radio shows that comprised early 1950s television programming, advertising on the web was derivative of its predecessor forms. The first banners were tiny outdoor ads. As bandwidth expanded and boxes got bigger, on-page ads started to resemble magazine advertising. Streaming ushered in progressively longer, faster, higher-fidelity TV ads. But to re-purpose the inimitable Peggy Lee, Is that all there is?
Yes and no.
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As it turns out, the sight/sound/motion of TV Ads.... pretty....pretty good! Staying within the classic definition of advertising, video seems to make everybody happy. The consumer appetite for digital video - ad supported and otherwise - seems bottomless. It doesn't replace the mythic reach of the Big 4 Network/TV age, but it's as significant as most anything out there today. And advertisers have stepped up. Aside from the occasional YouTube/brand safety kerfuffle, they seem to want to buy just about whatever is available.
So did we change advertising? Yes, we took the historic TV model of video ads accompanying content and made it more targetable and accountable, and put it - literally - in the hand of the consumer via the mobile device. Have we yet fulfilled the potential that digital technology enables?
While the popularity and profit of the video advertising model will keep us all well-fed for many years, the ultimate change in advertising will be its full immersion in, and submission to, business and commerce. Digital technology and communication have rendered the old barriers between hearing, learning, considering, choosing and buying obsolete. And while we've made some brief nods toward blending ads and commerce, our goal has always been more accountable advertising... an improved status quo.
The real change will be when we don't think of it as advertising at all, but rather as just an early stage in the commercial relationship. The tech is there. So far, the will is not. But real change is inevitable.