In years to come, July 27th 2016 may go down as an important date in the history of marketing. Maybe not so famous that people will remember where they were, but notable nonetheless. Because yesterday, The Australian newspaper carried the exclusive story that one of the world's biggest media companies was rethinking its "out with the old, in with the new" channel strategy. According to reports, the previous year WPP and their media buying teams had struck a landmark advertising deal with You Tube that looked a bit like a snub to terrestrial TV channels.
And now, a year later, the report says they might have had a rethink. it appears that the response rates from running television style ads on digital media may not be what was hoped. Whether it's the invitation to close the ad so you can get on with watching what you wanted, or news that a high percentage of people are watching Facebook videos with the sound off, this is the first sign that perhaps digital isn't actually the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
Call it a tipping point if you will. But it shouldn't really be that big a surprise.
It's been a common theme of our recent work with both advertisers and agencies that digital media and advertising are not natural bedfellows. Where job ads in newspapers and mail order ads in magazines were always seen as a valuable part of the product, it's just not true of digital media.
Thanks to the brilliant free service provided by Google, we no longer "browse" in the same way we used to turn the pages of a printed product. Google takes us straight to what we want. And then You Tube does it in pictures. The ads don't really fit in anywhere. Well not without being annoying anyway.
As a result, we've been very busy helping clients build content driven strategies that reach people in a very different way. And I don't mean programmatic buying.
Digital media owning advocates once tried to sell us the idea that people would somehow tolerate watching advertising on You Tube and pre rolls on newspaper websites out of gratitude for getting free content. Like me, the originators of those strategies were probably brought up on the Idea that there was no such thing as a free lunch.
But people aged under 25 may have a very different view. These are the people who've been brought up in a world where Google, You Tube, Gmail, eBay, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Trip Advisor and almost every single newspaper in the world are all free. And fast. Can you imagine watching You Tube with a 56k modem?
True, not everything is free. But an inexpensive Kindle subscription on Amazon gives unlimited reading and a monthly Spotify subscription for less than the cost of a Whoppa meal unlocks access to all the music anyone could need. And then there's Netflix. And Stan, Presto, ITunes, catch up TV and the rest...
But as we hear the WPP team may be learning, all those new media channels don't mean a bonanza for advertisers. Given the choice to watch an ad on a phone or to click to close it, what do we think most normal people actually do? How many of us have ever voluntarily clicked on an online ad of any kind? And more importantly, how many of us ever will again when we have Google at our fingertips. For free.
So if we're finally realising that digital advertising might not actually be the future, whatever will take its place?
The answer may be staring us in the face. In Australia, the Financial Review still gets premium rates to advertise elite jobs with a capital E. Vogue magazine, God bless it, remains the first port of call for fashion companies. A UK tailor is finding that inserting leaflets into newspapers and mass circulation publications works pretty well. And on Friday nights, Channel Nine can still demand top dollar for ads running in live sport. (Content that few league and AFL fans will save for viewing later).
Meanwhile, content rich global publications from the New Yorker to Private Eye to Tyler Brule's Monocle are leading a worldwide renaissance in quality journalism while at home we've never had bigger screens to enjoy Game of Thrones, Mr Robot et al in an absolute Golden Age of Television,(although sadly commercial stations in Australia don't seem cashed up enough to buy any of it)
Weird but true. Despite falling circulations and revenue pressures, to coin a phrase, the death of old media may be slightly exaggerated. All the advertising industry has to do now is rediscover ways to cram ads into it.
Plus ca change etc...
About the Author
Alun Probert is a media veteran and commentator. He heads up the GovCom group, specializing in public sector and mass market communications and coaches teams in effective marketing, communications and brand management. Find out more on alunprobert.com