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Digital advertising: Why are brands doing so badly?

18th Jun 2014
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Digital. It’s not a channel box to tick, unless you work for a media buying company, it’s not TV 2.0 for your new ad creative or campaign. Though it appears for many, it still is.

Whenever I hear traditional ad spenders, most typically big brand managers or marketers, talk about investing in, or doing digital, I pause and cringe, and listen in hope. More often than not what they’re saying is – “we’re spending ad money on more ads in digital channels.” Driven by an ill-informed “cost per click,” or worse a crude “eyeball” metric. It’s still just advertising, and worse, using creative so often intended for TV or for billboards – neither of which translate well for online will guarantee to deliver exceptionally poor results.

What are you amplifying and measuring?

This is what jumps to mind first, for me. It’s not that digital advertising is bad or evil, far from it. Done well, it’s a fundamental part of an integrated campaign. Amplifying your content or campaign in social media through paid social media distribution, for example, is now a prerequisite to success and can equally be ad spend can be a smart means to re-engage or re-target as it’s at least spend focussed on a relevant niche who are more likely to have an affinity of sorts with your brand. The worst though, is digital display advertising with campaign or product creative plonked right in the middle.

If you’re not aware, banner ad clickthrough rates are shockingly low. The average banner ad has a 0.1% clickthrough rate (CTR), and the standard 468×60 banner has a 0.04% CTR. Statistically, you’re more likely to survive a plane crash than click on a banner ad, more shocking stats here too, and banner ads, like billboards and bus-sides (if you believe that stuff) cannot claim to ‘drive awareness’ either when 60% of people cannot remember the last display ad that they saw. So why do brands invest so heavily when the data does not support them on any level? Laziness, apathy, ignorance even?

Relationship vs Transaction

I feel this is what best describes the conflict of ad-led thinking over really seeing digital for what it can realise. We’re dying to get in front of the consumer and inspire a transaction, it goes without saying, it’s why we’re all paid. But today we have to put the relationship ahead of the transaction orientated thinking – this is the key difference with ad thinking over how to actually leverage digital media effectively. Transactions occur in the context of the relationship rather relationships in the context of the transaction – social media has disconnected advocacy from purchase, that’s why there are more fans and advocates of famous brands (Porsche, Tesla, Nike) than customers.

Here’s the key insight: digital media presents so many opportunities to engage through interactions and sharing which build relationships, first and foremost. And advertising can follow up to amplify what’s already working in the relationship and then increase the likelihood of future transaction.

“Transactions occur in the context of the relationship rather relationships in the context of the transaction. When you change from decision to engagement, you change the entire model.” Antonio Lucio, chief brand officer, Visa.

Big funnel vs Long journey thinking

I feel this is the heart of the shift required in the brand owner’s mindset to really ‘do’ digital. Consumers don’t just enter at the top of the sales funnel; instead as McKinsey and later Google ZMOT highlighted, they come in at any stage. They often jump stages, stay in a stage, move back and forth, moving through touchpoints over time – before, during, and after a purchase – and user different devices and channels to do it. The idea of a long journey, made of multiple touchpoints, in real-time is of significant difference when planning how to win and develop brand advocacy.

“You no longer have to be a customer to be a [brand] advocate.” Joel Lunenfeld, VP of global brand marketing at Twitter.

I enjoyed the sentiment in this post where the author states that the real test, is not “did this catch the consumer’s attention?”, but, “Did this meet our promise to the consumer so that they are open to hearing from us again?” This is the difference.

“Marketing isn’t about pushing people’s thoughts and actions. It’s about amplification, helping what’s already happening grow faster.” Arjan Dijk, VP for global small business marketing, Google.

One campaign or great piece of work is all well and good, and alas relatively rare, but today an effective digital strategy is anchored to the design of a content strategy that allows for a brand to produce good content regularly in digital channels. To publish, and then also show up everyday where the consumer is and serve, in a way that's unique or simply relevant to their brand and consumer. Think Red Bull.

What say you? What are your experiences of digital advertising, am I unfair?

Danyl Bosomworth advises companies on digital marketing strategy. You can read his strategy advice on To learn more about techniques for integrated digital strategies, attend Digital Impact in London on 17th September.


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