Why Hasn’t the Web Lived Up to Its Brand Promise?

 

This is the first article in a 12-part series, “Solving the Web’s Brand Challenge.” The series is made possible through the sponsorship of Vizu, an online ad technology company whose solutions allow advertisers and publishers to measure and optimize brand lift in real time.
There are some simple numbers that illustrate the Web’s brand challenge. According to Forrester Research, consumers now spend as much time with the Internet as TV. And, yet, the Web counts for less than half the size of the $59 billion spent on TV advertising in the U.S., per EMarketer. That discrepancy, despite the Internet’s many successes over the past 15-plus years, is a vexing problem for all levels of the industry. Over the next six weeks, Digiday will examine why this is the case and what’s being done to fix it, from better creative, to more efficient buying systems to proper attribution for the ads driving brand consideration and awareness. To kick off the series, we asked nine leaders in digital media the simple question: “Why has the Web fallen short as a brand-advertising medium?”
Dave Morgan, CEO of SImulmedia and founder of Tacoda
Display advertising on the Web is proven as a very efficient platform for direct marketing. However, it has never delivered on its promise as a powerful standalone branding medium, in spite of the fact that many of us have been trying to make it that for more than 15 years. How many big national mass-consumer marketers who sell their products offline would see their sales collapse if they shut off their Web display advertising? Virtually none, which is certainly not the case when it comes to television advertising and marketers in the automotive, movie, consumer packaged goods, insurance, quick service restaurants and consumer electronics categories. Consider Apple. The company’s Web user experience provides great branding for the company, not unlike the branding experience delivered by its physical store’s or by its product packaging. However, purchased Web media is a very small part of Apple’s brand advertising expenditures. Most of its advertising goes to TV, magazines and out-of-home. Why has the Web disappointed? Maybe a user’s lean-forward experience while browsing on a personal computers is does not permit as impactful of a media experience as an interruptive sight, sound and motion ad viewed while leaning-back on a 50-inch, high-definition television. I don’t know many Web ads that made me laugh, cry and want to hug whoever was near me. Television delivers that kind of emotive power every day. Display ads on the Web? Maybe brand advertisers are just not that into you.
Wenda Harris Millard, president of Medialink and former chief sales officer at Yahoo
There are two reasons we haven’t made the progress we should have made. The first is we never settled on brand metrics on how to appropriately measure brand impact online. For 17 years, we’ve been using classic direct-response ROI metrics to try to measure brand impact. There have been a couple companies that have tried to do it, but by and large the media community — agencies — have been looking at brand marketing and direct marketing with the same metrics. It’s hard to believe, but it’s true. That’s why the Making Measurement Make Sense Initiative is so important. Finally, we’re going to settle on them. That’s a very big part of that initiative: to find the right brand metrics. The second reason is because we’ve focused for so long on the facilitator, which is technology, instead of focusing on the creative. We’ve spent so much time being enchanted with the technology. It has been a great enabler, but the best media plan in the world with the most sophisticated targeting is not going to work if you don’t have great creative that causes people to feel something and eventually do something.
Troy Young, president at Say Media
One word: clutter. It’s killing digital media. In all other cases of media, the structure of the medium created the space for advertising that allowed the user to focus on the ad content. On the Internet we just created more and more ads. There’s no way for an advertiser to tell a story. It has to be a transactional metric they’re looking at which is clicks, but brand advertising isn’t about that. It’s about telling a story, making an impression, making someone feel something. To do that, you need focused attention.
Jean-Philippe Maheu, CEO of Publicis Modem and former CEO of Razorfish
Four reasons:
1. Risk/reward equation has been much better in the direct-response space. Entrepreneurs and VCs followed the money and most of the innovation has occurred in the DR space.
2. Brand stewardship remains in the hands of traditional agencies and creatives who come up too seldom with brand ideas that lend themselves to great digital brand experiences.
3. Less is more. TV has one single format (the 30-second spot) which helps creatives to dream within a known set of constraints. The Web with its plethora of formats makes it much harder for the creative community.
4. Talent. Creative that grew up in digital have developed strong skills in the direct-marketing side or in the user-experience/site-design side. Not enough of them grew up as story-tellers … though this is changing now.
I do believe the Web is starting to fulfill its potential for brand advertising. However, sometimes brands and agencies fail to understand what it means to communicate their brand in the new medium. If brand advertising is still seen just as a large-format, expensive, high-emotional TV-like object, then digital is an incongruous fit. But if brand advertising is seen as developing a tight relationship with your consumer, then digital more than answers the promise of what people want from brand advertising.
Jason Krebs, chief media officer at Tremor Video
The branding aspect is emotional. Everyone knows when you’re doing direct response you look at finite numbers. The major decision makers haven’t caught up with the emotional tie in with digital. It’s about liking a product and wanting to be personally and emotionally involved. In my 15 years in sales at Conde Nast, The New York Times and The Weather Channel, I’ve rarely seen a budget spent on a product that the key advertising decision maker didn’t use, like and appreciate that product. I can’t say there’s an emotional tie-in with any of the pure digital products yet. We reach 90 million people [at Tremor Video], but we really need to connect to 1,000 CMOs. In TV, you never have a moment when the advertiser doesn’t like the TV show or doesn’t think it’s funny, but still buys it. They don’t pick up a magazine and think it’s horrible and poorly designed, but say “Well it has 1 million circulation, so let’s buy it.” We’re not fully at emotional acceptance yet with digital but will be in time.
Jim Spanfeller, CEO of The Spanfeller Media Group and former CEO Forbes.com
Who says that it hasn’t? The vast majority of brand studies that I have seen have shown lift. Clearly the Web is a great place for branding. The issue is that few advertisers or agencies are using it for that. The Web got pigeon-holed as a place for DR, and the vast majority of metrics in common use today are all about that …often to the detriment of branding. For example, clicks are not a good metric for branding at all. With larger units, new metrics and more creative power applied to digital marketing, there is no doubt that branding will rise. All the projections state this and perhaps more importantly it simply has to happen as people spend more and more time in the digital world.
David Payne, svp, chief digital officer of Gannett
Two characteristics that have made TV advertising the darling of brand advertisers – sound and motion – have not been delivered at scale in Internet advertising to date. When you add to that the temporal nature of the medium where advertisers don’t have the visceral benefit of always seeing their ads run, there is a natural tendency to relegate the currency to the ranks of direct response. As the industry moves to measurement that confirms viewability, and the creative expands to deliver high-end sound, motion and interactivity, we’ll not only take brand-advertising share but have the chance to dominate the market given the time spent, targeting and measurement benefits of the medium.
Andrew Susman, president Studio One Networks and former director of business development at Time Inc.
Brands got overly excited about cheap potential audiences on the Web. It’s what one might call attention greed. Then they turned to their agencies, which were competent at persuasion but not at audience gathering. Thus, brand Web sites turned out to be advertisements rather than audience-gathering tools. Fifteen years later, brands are coming to grips with the realities of balancing audience and persuasion in a friendly, dynamic and effective way. Some call it content marketing, but it’s really just creating consumer value to which some branding is attached. You might even think of it as a service model. Very few companies are good at it, and the publishers, who are good at it, are reticent to compromise their media-brand equity in favor of their advertiser’s brand equity. So, they keep the brands contained in a cage called an ad unit. Basically, it’s still sorting itself out.
Yuchun Lee, gm of IBM’s enterprise marketing management group
There’s a gap between high-level recognition of what needs to be done in the industry, and how willing they are to do it. Fragmentation in the ad tech industry is an issue, but it is also about media performance. We know that earned media is 10 to 15 times more effective than the best performing paid media. The potential for impact online is there. It’s not surprising that online media seems to be lagging behind other forms of advertising, because online brands are seeking results that are just not evident in paid media. I think we are going to see more of what we call branding will shift towards those social conversations in online communities rather than what the advertising side has campaigned for, in terms of paid media.
As part of Vizu’s sponsorship of this series, Digiday shot videos with industry leaders to discuss the main challenges that have faced the Web when it comes to branding. In the first video, Mindy Guillama-Rodriguez, a digital strategy supervisor at Horizon Media, discusses why time spent on the Web doesn’t match up with budget allocated there and the hurdles consumer-packaged goods advertisers face with the medium.

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