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What if Everything We've Been Told About Digital Advertising is Wrong?

Daniel Yonts


What if everything we've been told about Digital Advertising is wrong? What if you could scale your business by getting in front of consumers with ads that let them know you exist? What if online exposures did have value? What if display ads did work? What if branding mattered as much (or more) online as it does offline? What if you could actually measure your brand and see it grow online? What if clicks didn't matter nearly as much? 

In the Digital Marketing community, these questions are more likely to inspire chuckles than serious thought. In the minds of many, they've been answered years ago. The high cost for exposures and poor performance of display ads in the early days of e-commerce is all the proof most require. No doubt, when it cost $60 per 1,000 (untargeted) exposures it was nearly impossible for display campaigns to be profitable. 

What's more, traditional media players were more than eager to promote the idea that online exposures had little or no value. Perhaps, there was a short period of optimism when the industry felt its pricing model might translate to the web -- with the benefit of lower delivery costs and an audience that rewards advertisers. After all, new media allows consumers to click on an ad and go to a page with a more aggressive sales pitch. How could that not be a good thing? Yet, fewer and fewer people clicked, and fewer advertisers wanted to pay traditional media rates. 

By the time I began my digital career, any optimism that might have existed was replaced with disappointment and contempt. Ad agencies, ad brokers, media buyers and traditional media outlets became evangelists on the ineffectiveness of online advertising. They'd point out the long list of campaigns that couldn't get clicks -- no matter how skewed the messaging was toward this goal. They'd point out an absence of brand awareness generated from ads designed to inspire clicks. Thus, it was concluded that being seen online has little or no value. In other words, branding cannot or does not occur online --at least, not through advertising.

Unfortunately, this has become the prevailing view among traditional and digital marketing professionals. It's unfortunate because the premise is false. The idea that online exposures have no value is untrue. It's so untrue, in fact, that it threatens to undermine the very foundations on which these professions were built. When the dominant media cannot enable consumers to know that brands exist -- branding and advertising professionals are in trouble. 

Conversely, those who know better need only remain silent and hope their competitors cling to common wisdom. For them, life is way easier than markets should permit. They understand that exposures do have value -- and that this value can be measured and scaled. They know this from billions of online exposures and countless tests to measure brand activity. They know this because they've grown sales rapidly (even during an economic downturn) by using display ads and a strategy that favors being seen over getting clicks.

If being seen matters more than clicks, messaging would be done differently. Letting consumers know you exist would matter far more than persuading them to click. In fact, you would want to reduce the rate at which ads are clicked in order to obtain more exposures at a lower cost, especially in a PPC environment. This is done by disqualifying non-buyers and with help from competitors -- who seek high click-through rates that accelerate their departure from the marketplace. This generates more exposures at a lower cost.



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