Right message, right person, right time. Wrong answer.

I met with an entrepreneur late last week and he mentioned that he had read my blog (I didn’t believe him either) and that he was curious as to why I think online advertising will continue to be effective when all of the data shows that consumers are increasingly ignoring online ads. I realized that as much as I write about online advertising on this blog, I haven’t really defined what form I think it will take over the coming years to be effective. It turns out that The Cluetrain Manifesto had it at least partially right years ago. To paraphrase and to put in the simplest terms, marketing is about conversations.

The right message. The problem with online advertising to date has been that it has taken the form of delivering a one-way message and talking to a consumer, much like in traditional media. In today’s web world, consumers realize that they aren’t a captive audience. They are free to continue doing whatever it is that they came to a website to do, either by ignoring or skipping ads. That is why the “right message” doesn’t work any more. Online advertising in the coming years will be a dialogue between brands and consumers and amongst consumers themselves within the context of a brand. Widgets and dynamic rich media in various forms, such as games, review panels, and personal utilities, will take the place of banners and text ads (although probably not for search). Interactivity, community and engagement will be top of mind when developing campaign creatives.

The right person. The targetability and measurability of internet advertising will continue to improve. With so much anonymous and user-provided data available on the web to be used for targeting, finding the right person with whom to engage in a conversation will be easier than ever. Contextual targeting and the current approaches to behavioral targeting have not proven to work well in many contexts. Certainly, new targeting models will emerge and prove effective for discrete online environments.

The right time. The traditional purchase funnel (roughly defined as awareness, consideration, intent and purchase) isn’t such a straight and narrow path any longer. The idea of finding online consumers at exactly the “right time” in the funnel (again, with the exception of search) isn’t just difficult, it’s also outdated. The focus of agencies and brands will be in building relationships with consumers at all points in time, because on the Internet, information and influence is coming constantly and from all directions. The only way to rise above the noise will be to engage consumers in a sustained conversation using the new, rich tools available to marketers.


So what’s the right answer? Hopefully, the right conversation with the right person whenever possible.

5 thoughts on “Right message, right person, right time. Wrong answer.

  1. S / I disagree with the oft-repeated notion that customers ignore ads. I think there is no science to actually test whether they do or not – of course they say they ignore them, I am sure I would say the same thing if asked. But there are a number of lead gen companies that are successful (suggesting that online ads work), and I’ve been a part of companies that have built their users through online advertising. To me your other points are spot on regardless — good advertising works, period.


  2. Andy, I probably should have been more clear when talking about consumers ignoring ads. Clearly, direct response marketing has proven successful on the web. I think that’s because the creatives are largely calls to action that resonate with a particular user at a particular time (having a dialogue-like effect). On the other hand, brand advertising performance continues to decline. Much of that can be attributed to poorly performing social media page views that are increasing as a percentage of total online page views. Both better creatives and different metrics for evaluating performance will be critical to dispelling the notion that online advertising doesn’t and can’t work.

  3. Pingback: Bigger (advertising) is not better « Venture Generated Content

  4. Pingback: Lotame Learnings » Blog Archive » 3 Reasons why data will save online advertising

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