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Monday, 5 January 2009

Evolving Digital Display in 2009

Here's a great article on something I'm particularly interested in - digital predications for the future. It'll be very interesting to look back at 2009 and see whether the tough economic environment really does evolve online display (banner ads) or not.

Not-So-Banner Year for Digital
As budgets tighten, media such as display ads will come under scrutiny
Jan 5, 2009. By Brian Morrissey

There are two schools of thought when it comes to how digital advertising will fare in the grip of a recession. On the one hand, optimists see tight budgets accelerating the shift from less measurable traditional media into more targeted digital channels. The pessimists, however, point out that stagnant budgets affect all marketing, even if digital outlets fare better.

Against this backdrop, experts expect marketers will continue to push for new ways to reach audiences through digital channels. Tried-and-true methods like search marketing look to remain stable, while advertisers pay more attention to getting more solid metrics on how consumers were influenced before they type a query into a search box.

That means old school methods like display ads and microsites will come under pressure. Social media looks set to remain on the top of advertisers' agendas, as they look to apply the lessons of their early missteps in the area while adding real measurement to what have been experimental forays to date. As the Internet becomes more social, there will likewise be an acceleration of a move from purely technical implementations to using the Web's emerging social infrastructure to connect on a more human level.

According to researcher eMarketer, online ad spending will climb 8.9 percent next year, from $23.6 billion to $25.7 billion. Back in August, just prior to Wall Street's meltdown, eMarketer predicted that spending would surge 14 percent in 2009. But the economy is now taking its toll on all segments of media. Here is a roundup of how that spending may pan out:

Display ad blues

The Web has moved well beyond its former role as a place where banner ads and microsites are used to support the real meat of the offline marketing. Nowadays, the most high-profile campaigns are centered on the Web. Take "Whopper Virgins," the latest Burger King push from Crispin Porter + Bogusky. The centerpiece is a Web film, which is then spliced into components for traditional media. What's more, the push has relied on the viral buzz of blogs and other digital outlets as much as big-money media buys.

Those type of efforts will put pressure on "traditional" digital efforts like run of the mill banner ads pumped out through ad networks and Flash microsites without any compelling reason for anyone to visit.

Forrester Research expects display ads to come under the scrutiny of tight-fisted marketers uncertain of their effectiveness.

Pricing is expected to rise just 8 percent after several years of uninterrupted, solid expansion. "The financial pressure will be severe," said Dave Morgan, a former AOL executive. "When you take out big chunks of money, it's not just the spend that disappears but also the competition."

Social measures up

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's prediction that media would forever change with the advent of the popular social network's ad platform is rightly ridiculed. Yet while advertisers have few success stories on sites like Facebook, the growth of the social Web is impossible to ignore. Facebook now adds a new user every seven seconds.

For all its growth and hype, social media has been unforgiving terrain for marketers. Their efforts to date have been decidedly experimental, consisting of sponsorships, ad placements or brand applications that have proven ineffective. "Whenever you try to apply a standard ad model to a social dynamic, it's like oil and water," said Sean Finnegan, chief digital officer at Starcom MediaVest Group.

Instead, look for marketers to weave social programs throughout their marketing, using free tools to monitor their brand health and respond to customer needs. Comcast, a brand with no shortage of detractors, has scored a rare win with customers by dedicating an employee to handle customer problems on micro-blogging network Twitter. Expect more brands to follow suit, not just on Twitter but throughout the social Web of blogs and other two-way media.

"The best way is to dig in and monitor what people are saying," said Noah Brier, head of strategy at digital marketing firm Barbarian Group. "It can only help you."

Bring in the humans

To this point, the Web has been, by its nature, technology driven. Google is the most successful company of the Internet era thanks to its algorithm, a piece of technology adept at sorting the wheat from the chaff. Most of the leaps and bounds online have been in the realm of technology, whether it's ad networks deciding marketing message placement by sniffing out users' prior behavior or finely tuned measurement. Expect more advancement on those fronts, yet a greater emphasis on giving digital marketing a human face.

The algorithm is already getting a human touch with sites like Buzzfeed and Mahalo. Even Google is coming around to this notion by letting users tell it which sites are more relevant to them, a seemingly small step but one unthinkable for the engineer-driven Google just a couple years ago. New tools like Twitter will only increase the drive for people to connect with people, not just faceless entities. This will challenge marketing organizations and agencies, since humans don't scale as easily as computers. The launch-and-forget mentality will need to give way to a 24 x 7 approach.

"There's going to a big wake-up call for brands that the real work begins after the launch," said David Armano, vp of experience design at digital agency Critical Mass. He sees cause marketing via social networks as a useful bridge to brands looking to infuse their mass reach ad tactics with a human touch.
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