The New Word in Online Advertising
By Colin Ryan
As social media and mobile devices continue to reshape the way we communicate and do business online, we need to start thinking differently about how we reach our customers. The word that should characterize this thinking: agility.
Okay, so the word agility isn’t exactly new to the business world. Rather, it’s the context of the word, the way we apply it to our marketing challenges, that’s changed.
Back in the Mad Men days, despite any lip service to the contrary, the power was in the hands of advertisers. They dictated what consumers wanted, when they wanted it, and how much they would pay for it. Consumers, for their part, were content with this outbound marketing scheme for a long time. Even during the first Internet age, when the possibilities for marketing to people began to change drastically, the basic arrangement remained the same: We sell, they buy.
Today, however, consumers have the agency in the relationship. Instead of dictators, advertisers are courtiers, attempting to entice fickle consumers with tons of free content before receiving anything in return.
This, in turn, has drastically altered the job of publishers. That is, instead of simply providing space, publishers have to broadcast advertisers’ messages in ways that mesh with this new balance of power, and this is where the idea of agility comes in. because digital marketing is about reaching consumers on the shifting sands of the social media landscape, a successful marketer must be nimble, light on his feet, able to adapt to opportunities wherever and whenever they present themselves—and a successful publisher must provide him with the tools to do so.
The good news is, publishers seem to be taking up this call to action, albeit unevenly. In the real estate space, Trulia recently widened the scope of their mobile advertising platform, opening the way for any agent to reach homebuyers on their smartphones. Still, if they’re responding to the mobile revolution, they’re completely ignoring the social one. You can dress your grandfather in a flat-brim cap and skinny jeans if you like, but that doesn’t make him any younger or fitter. Similarly, publishers who continue to apply old advertising solutions like banner ads to mobile devices are missing the point.
Instead, the most promising solutions, both for us advertisers and for the venues on which we market our services and products, come in the smallest packages. That is, it’s contextual, one-off solutions—the sponsored stories, the highlighted posts— that seem poised to take over for large-scale margin and banner ad campaigns. Actually, this has already started to happen: yesterday, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo announced that revenues from mobile advertising via promotional tweets have actually surpassed desktop revenues several times this quarter. Indeed, some of Costolo’s comments bear out what I’ve said already:
“Because tweets are 140 characters, and born of mobile and constrained that way, when we designed the ad platform our ads would go everywhere tweets go, and the only way is if the ads are tweets.”
In other words, Twitter’s platform gives businesses the ability to create ads that are every bit as agile as your everyday tweet. They can be generated quickly, and users don’t have to break from the Twitter mindset in order to consume them.
The folks at Facebook are taking this idea of agility to heart as well. As I’ve said before, one of Facebook’s biggest challenges has been figuring out how to monetize the middle. Twitter has done this successfully with promotional tweets. Now, Facebook has started to do the same—first with Promoted Posts, which for a one-time fee increases the number of fans who see a given post, and now with Sponsored Stories, which are created when people share and respond to those posts. Advertisers can also choose whether Sponsored Stories will appear on fans’ desktop News Feeds, mobile News Feeds, within the sidebar, or in any combination of the three.
Strange as it feels to say, Sponsored Stories are an exciting development in social advertising. Not only is Facebook putting ads in context, giving them a life of their own as users interact with them: they’re giving marketers the chance to respond to their consumers in the way they feel is best. It’s this kind of agility that advertisers and publishers should be striving to emulate—and, provided they can address all the other problems they’re facing, it’s this kind of agility that will pull Facebook out of their rut.
Published on June 8, 2011