The Evolving Landscape of Online Advertising


originally posted in Concept Hub

It has been 10 years since I took an advertising class at Florida State University through my marketing program. It was one of my favorite classes for two reasons.

First, it was 1998 and it was the beginning of exploring advertising opportunities on the web. We built our own banner ads. I recall my team created one for Motown Records. I became an avid reader of Wired Magazine and immediately recognized how and were changing the game. I knew my future was definitely going to be digital.

Second, was the promise of integrated marketing communications. I read in my textbook that integrated marketing communications was:

a concept of marketing communications planning that recognizes the added value of a comprehensive plan that evaluates the strategic roles of a variety of communication disciplines – for example, general advertising, direct response, sales promotion, and public relations – and combines these disciplines to provide clarity, consistency, and maximum communications impact.

The Internet looked like it could be a channel that would enable such integration. Through campaigns with an immediate call to actions, the ability to widely distribute information, and the analytics to track behavior as well as the ability to have a 2-way conversation, it seemed that PR, Sales, Marketing, and Advertising teams would be able to work together to achieve their goals.

What we saw were websites, banner ads, pop up ads, and lots of emails. The web became a landfill of information. Many of the sites were even polluted with viruses.

Google Changes the Game

As many people know, Google came in with a system to organize the information landscape as well as to make the web a safer place by having sites with high authority rankings rising to the top. In a way, Google was the first Digg. It ranked sites based on how many other sites were linking to it. The thought process behind Google was that the community knows best.

As a revenue model, Google chose to change the game of annoying banner ads and instead perfected the system of behavior-based ads. Ad Buyers not only knew that their ad would get lots of views, but they also knew that the views would be by a relevant audience at a very relevant time.

Imagine you are typing an email about planning your vacation to NYC and to the right pops up several ads about NYC. You probably do not need to try so hard to imagine, it happens to each of us every day.

Word of Mouth Marketing

What Google AdWords did was basically digitize word of mouth marketing. Whatever your online behavior reveals about you will result in a relevant ad will refer you to a site. The only thing that was missing was the relationship. Typically word of mouth referrals come from friends and family. You are telling your mom that you want to go to NYC and she tells you about a site her friend at work used. You trust your mom and therefore extend that trust to her friend at work and decide to check out the site. Google ads or any of the behavior-based ads does not provide that same comfort of trust. That level of trust can only come from real people within our networks of influence.

Relationship Marketing

Online Forums have been around since the Internet. People have been using email to spread their opinions to their friends from the moment they signed up for their first account. So why are we only recently paying attention to online networks and the impact of relationship marketing?

Trust. Initially, we did not trust the information that was posted on forums by strangers. We each have been hoaxed by online urban legends and well we only trusted sanctioned broadcast messages online. As technology changed and evolved, more and more of our friends and family started posting information online. Not just about brands, but about life in general. The web became a conversation amongst our networks and our extended networks. Now when I am looking for information about NYC, I can bypass my mom and go directly to her friend from work to find out about the website she used to book her trip.

Integrated Marketing Communications

Ten years ago I learned about integrated marketing communications. An idea that all the departments involved in communications would work together to create a strategic and comprehensive communications strategy. In the 10 years since then, I have yet to see that idea realized, until now.

Whether or not organizations realize it, what happens in customer service is now being broadcasted online throughout various peer to peer networks. Public Relations is now in the hands of each employee that is representing an organization online and marketing is in the hands of the communities.

As this landscape continues to evolve we see traditional advertising dollars and methods becoming less and less stable. People want value from their advertising messages whether it is education or entertainment or participation. People want trust from brands, the kind of trust that only comes with building a relationship and providing a service. Organizations need to work harder and be more diligent to keep their customers satisfied and to maintain their attention. In order to achieve such a challenge, internal departments need to work together to develop a unified approach and consistent message and mission. Advertising has evolved to the point that integrated marketing communications is not just a nice idea, it is an urgent necessity.