Chris Anderson of TED fame provides some fresh ideas and metaphors as to why online advertising is ineffective in a 30-minute video. And it is ineffective. He noted that the advertising value associated with one hour of an Internet user’s time is less than $.10 and one third of that goes to Google. This number is low even compared to the challenged performance of television which comes to $.25 and print which is $1.00. It gets worse.
A current solution, to impose a 15- or 30-second ad in the form of a video segment, is designed to engender frustration and even hatred, worse than pop up ads. The online audience, as opposed to TV couch potatoes, is in control and resents losing that position.
According to Anderson, one reason for ineffective advertising is a preoccupation with reach and attention with little consideration with intensity. To Anderson the North Star is passion, to get the audience to have an interest in a relationship with advertisers that engenders an incentive to share. Reach by itself can be of little value.
Advertisers tend to do whatever is needed in order to gain attention instead of an indirect approach that may require more effort, ingenuity, trust, and patience. Anderson compared this attitude to a person wanting a relationship, yet becoming so clingy and persistent they seem like a stalker. Similarly, when a creative solution is needed it may be best not to rush to a brainstorming session unless it is preceded by gathering the right information and people. The slower indirect path is often the best choice. That is also true for online advertising.
So how should online advertisers change their perspective? Anderson has several thoughts. One route is to become part of the community rather than talking at it. Anderson recalls the days of PC computer magazine in which readers read ads with more involvement and intensity that the articles. The advertisers were part of the community. There was both authenticity and passion. Google has tapped into this in its own way as its advertising is viewed as provided functional value that fits into the experience. And advertisers in Vogue, Golf Digest and others share interests and vocabulary with readers.
Another is the concept of radical openness. He talks about how TED conferences had only 800 members twice a year, yet there were tears, changed lives and real passion. The decision was made to put the conference talks on the Internet and as a result the talks have now gained 320 million viewers, the passion has been amplified.
He suggests that firms might have employees talk about their values and experiences, to let the audience inside. Tony Hsieh of Zappos.com may be a role model. Another is to recognize why people attend to stimuli and are motivated to pass it on. It is no real mystery. Those that studied word-of-mouth advertising fifty years ago recognized it. For the audience to pass on the content, it must be motivated to show off knowledge or connoisseurship, help others, or be liked. So the content needs to be exceptional at delivering entertainment, information or opinion.
To put substance behind the ideas, TED is sponsoring a contest to create “Ads Worth Sharing,” ads that with a difference, ads that engage the audience “authentically, intelligently, delightfully.” Ten will be chosen and will get exposure at the TED conference and on their web site. I can’t even imagine the value of having that instant, guaranteed viral action. The indirect approach can be expensive and conceptually difficult if the goal is to gain topline sales rather goals that involve community, authenticity and passion.