09 February 2007 ~ 1 Comment

The Promise of Interactive Advertising?

When I read Walt Mossberg is at an industry event, and asking questions no less, I stop and pay attention. After all, his “new” column on personal technology (16 years, and counting) in my local paper (WSJ) is one I read regularly. The question he asked screamed to me:

Walt Mossberg [Courtesy of WIRED]

When will the online advertising industry actually deliver on its outstanding promise of the last decade to present the right ad to the right person at the right time? When will we finally deliver a consumer experience where the vast majority of ads that we deliver are meaningful, and not junk and clutter on Web pages?

The first part, as you can imagine, had behavioral targeting (BT) junkies abuzz. Dave Morgan, Tacoda Chairman (and also the pundit asked to answer Walt’s question), took the question on it’s merits and wrote a MediaPost piece, answering: soon, perhaps even by year end 2008.

Bold prediction, considering his evidence to support the claim was an increase in competition from marketers, an increase in adoption of the web from advertisers, better creative and, finally, as result of “so much focus now on the customer experience.”

Perhaps he’s right. Only time will tell, but the increase in competition and adoption exists currently, and has for awhile. The better creative line is a nice wish, but hoping for more talent shouldn’t exactly bring comfort to those planning a campaign. As for the “focus on customer experience,” I’d consider “lip-service” to be a more accurate description.

This part of the question isn’t what was so interesting, however. BT is a nice technology, but means nothing without the confidence that you’ve planned the right content, for the right type of customer (buying modality, not demographics), at the right stage of the buying process (content + persona + buying process = scenario). Personalization at the individual level is an unscalable myth. It’s the second part of his question–ads becoming meaningful–that keeps me up at night. That, and cleaning out my inbox.

We know people today have BS meters set to ‘hyper-sensitive.’ We know our customers know more about our products’ real strengths and weaknesses than we do. We know credibility is linked to authenticity. The smart ones out there also know how little control “we” hold over the consumer (or “people” but, please, stop saying users!).

The greater the transparency, the less the ads try to make someone do something and begin focusing on facilitating people doing what they already came to do (or want to do). The more seamless ads become, the more integrated into the experience they become and the more they add value; more value to us (consumers/people) and, for that matter, far more value to advertisers.

Planning integrated, transparent customer experiences gives advertisers more value because it forces them to satisfy the needs of actual humans. More so, that is, than any new technology designed to attract the right sets of eyeballs to self-focused “we-we”-spewing copy, rotating flash animations, or whatever interruption ploy du jour marketers and advertisers use to push messages at the masses.

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