Social media as a PR layup won’t last

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We are all media now.

Yes, thanks to social media, each of us distributes content to an audience.  Or, more precisely, we distribute to an audience quickly and easily, en masse, at all times.

To be fair, we’ve always had audiences.  It just took awhile, relatively speaking, to write them letters, or call them, or, back in the ‘90s, email them.

Now, I tweet something, you re-tweet it to your 75 or 7500 or 75,000 followers and, voila, distribution!  Ditto for posting on Facebook.

Professionally, this is great news.  Since you’re media now, companies want to find you, reach you and get you to pass along their messages to your audience.

My CFO likes this for a couple reasons.

First, there are A LOT of you.  That’s always good.

And, second, you’re a lot easier to work with than real reporters at what we used to call “the media.”

I’m over-generalizing here, but, basically:  you don’t fact check, you don’t mind that there’s clearly an angle, you don’t typically offer an alternative view, and you don’t have to ration space like those poor folks on the news or at the paper.  That makes you a little, um, less discriminating.

Alas, you know that too-good-to-be-true feeling?

Like when the Redskins win their first couple games.  Or your mobile ad gets a 1.64% click-through rate (trust me, it’s a big number in the world of banner ad click-through rates).

That’s the sense I have about working the global public on behalf of companies, brands, politicians, movies and whatnot.  And for the same reason.

It’s early.

And it’s too easy to publish. We don’t have to think and we don’t have to work.  We see something, we click a few buttons, we’ve distributed.  It’s like finding a new voice.

My two-year-old just found his.  Enough said?

Honestly, I don’t know how much noise we can handle before we turn on the Internet’s version of noise-canceling earphones.

For now, I’m reminded of a Talking Heads’ line in “Psycho Killer:”  “You’re talking a lot, but you’re not saying anything.”

That came out in 1977.  Before social media.  Before the Internet.  Before “reply all.”

To what were they referring?  The 6 o’clock news?

Maybe the signal-to-noise imbalance is as old a concept as sound itself.  Maybe it’s just human nature to communicate to the extent possible, like gas fills space.

Brace yourself.  Social media is a big space.

In which case, John Lennon may be our best guide.  He wrote “Julia” in 1968, borrowing from a 1926 Khalil Gibran line.  In it, he confesses, “Half of what I say is meaningless.”

You still there?

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Yahoo! Finally, a digital ad brands will love.

yahoolivingad1

There’s been a lot said lately about what Yahoo! has done wrong.  Here’s something they’re doing right!

Yesterday, they introduced what they’re calling the Yahoo Living Ad unit for tablets.  Finally, someone is creating ad units that not only take advantage of what digital has to offer (rich, storytelling experiences AND interactivity), but that people will actually see.  The ad only comes in two sizes:  full page and 1/3-page.

Definitely check out the demo here.

yahoolivingad2

Yahoo! had this to say about the new ad units:  “Living Ads combine the interactivity of digital with the emotional engagement of broadcast, inviting consumers into a uniquely immersive brand experience.

Under the heading Deeper Branding Opportunities they say the ads “create a highly tactile experience. The ads use video to increase engagement, as well as capitalize on the motion-sensing capabilities of tablets. The creative interacts with the consumer, making the ads (HERE’S MY FAVORITE PART –>) virtually impossible to ignore.”

And hats off to the talented folks over at Alexx Henry Studios for bringing this to life.  It won’t be long before the ads are better than the content on which they are placed.

Way to go Yahoo!  I know you’re in a bit of survival mode right now, so here’s to hoping the Living Ad is very aptly named.

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Why brands don’t buy banner ads

Hazelnut

I love coffee.  I drink it everyday.

I especially like strong, freshly-brewed coffee.  I seek it out and pay extra for it.  I have a favorite kind, but I generally consume a mix over the course of a week.  A different brand here, an espresso there, a cappucino after dinner.

But flavored coffee does nothing for me, especially hazelnut.  I never buy it.

Strange, isn’t it?  Just one variation on the theme and I go from active in the category to absent.

Now, let’s talk about banner advertising.  Again.

Imagine you sell hazelnut coffee, and that most of the world shares my disdain for it.  What do you do?  You lower the price, of course.  And still you have boatloads of unsold beans.

Well, you think, there are SO MANY places on earth to sell hazelnut coffee, I just need to make it more available!  And so, you put hazelnut coffee stands and hazelnut espresso machines and special 3-D holographic augmented reality hazelnut coffee experiences on every empty street corner you can find.  In fact, you litter the world with hazelnut coffee.  With all this new supply, hazelnut coffee prices drop even more.  Rents are not met on many corners.  Some return to selling shish kebabs.

And then, Eureka!  An algorithm!  It tells you exactly what time of day, which street corner and which sales pitch will most likely yield a sale.  You have found marketing nirvana:  the right message to the right person at the right time.  This being math, an entire industry grows to predict the likelihood of purchase and to negotiate the best rates on all those street corners.

And, at the end of it all, you have even more unsold hazelnut beans getting sold for even less money.  How can this possibly be?

Because people don’t like hazelnut coffee.

It doesn’t work for them.

That’s how brands feel about banner advertising, and rightly so.

I was at another data conference recently.  Some very smart and even some quite wealthy people spent a couple hours going over a chart like this one to explain how banner advertising is bought and sold today (source:  Progress Partners):

industrymap
Wow!  Does it have to be this complicated?  Well, yes and no.  While the online ad industry (not including search) continues to push a basic product (banner ads) that customers (brands) don’t want, then, yes.  It actually is quite complicated to try to get people who don’t want what you’re selling to buy it anyway.

But do brands hate all advertising?  Absolutely not.

They just hate to be ignored.

And that’s exactly what they get with today’s banner ads.  Like hazelnut does for me and coffee, banner ads offer brands a variation on advertising they abhor.

You see, brands can’t stomach invisibility.  Unfortunately, for the banner industry at least, invisibility is their signature flavor.

Tell me again about your favorite banner ad?  Or, about ANY banner ad?  Take invisibility out of online advertising and brands will flock to them.

In other words, lose the hazelnut.  That will simplify things greatly.

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Growth Engine: Man, or Mushroom?

mushroom

College.  Mushrooms.  Vegas.

Think you know where this story goes?  Hang on.

Two guys at Rensselaer Polytech Institute get seriously hooked on mushrooms. They just can’t stop thinking about how fungal mycelium bonds wood chips together.  Inspired, they work on new ways to use mycelium as a resin.

Four million dollars in grants later, Eben and Gavin are building their second manufacturing plant in the northeast and planning a third in Texas so their mushroom-based, foam-replacing packing material doesn’t have to ride the train from NY to one of their big customers, as in Dell.  Steelcase buys their stuff by the trainload, too.

Did I say manufacturing plant?  Looked more like a bakery to me, seeing Gavin’s prez yesterday in Vegas (he was a keynote speaker at the National 4R Conference sponsored by the US Chamber of Commerce – @chamberbclc).  Racks and racks of pans (think L-shaped bundt cakes).

Five days on the rack, no sun, hardly any energy at all, and, presto!  No more office furniture dinged in shipping and no more foam packing material.

ecovative

Check them out:  ecovativedesign.com (@ecovative) It’s a great story.

Two things really struck me, beyond the sheer awe that mushrooms can do this and that two guys figured it out:  1) the role of public money in getting this company off the ground (or, from under the bed, as Gavin tells us — the mushrooms needed darkness and they didn’t have a lab); and 2) the role of nature as manufacturer.

I have a bias against government subsidies.  Using taxpayer money to artificially create demand and markets strikes me as, well, unsustainable.

But this mushrooming business altered my position, if not my reality.  Yes, the EPA gave these guys some money.  As in, you and I gave these guys some money.  Would Kleiner Perkins have funded them?  Maybe, though the social media, casual-gaming play isn’t jumping out at me here (Mushroomville?).

I didn’t ask Gavin if he would have taken private equity to get started.  I didn’t get that vibe from him.  He used the word “bootstrap” a lot.

Are we better off now that Ecovative Design exists?  Environmentally, I’d say yes.  This stuff practically makes itself, breaks down in soil in 30 days, and replaces a fossil fuel-derived staple.  Since we pay the EPA to help make us better off, environmentally, that’s my bridge to OK for using public money to help these guys get off the ground.  It’s a new bridge and for now it hangs on the difference between stimulating supply and creating demand.

Now, if there’s something seemingly unnatural about how Ecovative Design got its early financing, there’s little but nature turning their mushrooms into dent-free desks and servers.

Here’s the recipe, lifted from their site:  “We actually grow EcoCradle™ using mycelium, a fungal network of threadlike cells. This mycelium grows around agricultural by-products like buckwheat husks, oat hulls, or cotton burrs to any shape we make. In 5 – 7 days, in the dark, with no watering, and no petrochemical inputs, the mycelium envelops the by-products, binding them into a strong and beautiful packaging part.”

Strong and beautiful, indeed.  Hey!  Turn out the lights and shut off the water!  Rare commands in the product manufacturing business.

Smells like a good balance sheet coming off those racks, too.

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8th graders know why brand money isn’t online; surely website publishers can figure it out

raisinghand

Every March I teach five 30-minute classes to 8th graders during career day for the Fresh Air Fund in NYC.  I always start the same way:  tell me about your favorite ads.  Hands shoot up.  This year:

“Geico!” (sexy grandpa)  “Doritos!”  (finger licking good)  “Sun Drop!” (drop it like it’s hot).

Then I ask what they do more:  watch TV or go online.  They do plenty of both, but online wins.

And where do you spend most of your time online?  Used to be two or three sites.  It’s all Facebook now.

So, I ask, tell me about your favorite ads on Facebook.

Have you ever asked a newly-minted teenager about yen-to-dollar ratios?  Because then you’d know the look I’m talking about.

Then, just to drive it home, I ask how much it costs them to spend all that time on Facebook.  This is in their wheelhouse.  “Nothin’.”

And, finally, for the true test, I ask:  Why is it you spend so much time online and you have no trouble remembering all these TV ads, but you can’t remember a single ad on Facebook?

This girl looked at me like I’d just asked for the time of day and replied just as plainly:  “Because on TV they MAKE you watch the ads and on Facebook they’re just these little square boxes off to the side that are so easy to ignore.”

“Liposuction!”  It turns out one kid did recall a Facebook ad after all.  He couldn’t remember the brand.

That’s pretty much it in a nutshell.

But, just to belabor the point, here’s eMarketer’s CEO saying it in a March 29, 2011 report:

“TV advertising is on course to return to prerecession levels,” said eMarketer CEO and co-founder Geoff Ramsey. “While the growth of online advertising has been robust, it hasn’t stopped brand advertisers from keeping the bulk of their budgets flowing through TV sets.”

And now we know why.

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We need more VW “Darth Vader” ads, not more product shots

I love the Darth Vader VW commercial that just aired (click above to play).  It reminds me of what’s great about advertising when done well.  Hey, I just used the word “love” in the same sentence as “VW.”  What do you suppose that’s worth?

Not much, according to America’s best-known ad critic.

Imagine, you create an ad that 10 million people ooh-and-ahh over online before it actually hits the Superbowl.  Then, you get panned by Mr. Advertising with, of all things, the go-to creative-killing quip from junk mail firms everywhere:  “show me how it sells.” [VW Finds Viral Force With Cute Ad, but So What?]

Seriously?

First, isn’t it a little early for “show me the money?”  I mean, it wasn’t exactly a two-fer-one pitch.

But what really rattles my light saber is that digitalmania – what our critic calls the “brave new world” – has so castrated creativity.

We are so fixated on data and technology — features and innovation, counters and clickers – we don’t see nearly enough work like this anymore.  You know, clever, touching advertising that actually creates a positive emotion and attachment.  What we might call desire.

Small wonder, really, if this is what you get from the judge:  “If you’re peddling entertainment instead of products, cultivating smiles not constituents, the Brave New World will be just as easy to squander resources in as the cowardly old one.”

In other words, the VW spot was a waste of money because it didn’t feature enough of the product.  Because what the world really needs is another boring-ass car commercial with interior 360s, mountain roads, horsepower stats and Motor Trend calipers.

I love digital.  I think it’s the most important and powerful thing we’ll see in marketing in my lifetime.  But, like every force, it has a dark side.

Please go buy a VW.  AdLand needs you.

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Hyper-innovation: great for consumers, except for the advertising

yawn big funnyYou checked out the ads on TV these days?  Or, like, for the last couple years?

I guess by definition I’m asking folks over the age of 15.  Ask the younger crowd what they watch and see how “idiot” is spelled with just a gaze in reply, unless you’re asking about the last Glee episode.  Facebook’s a verb now, like Google.

Anyway, back to the commercials.

They just seem a lot more…boring, and I think it’s because the real hero lately is the product.

Even the world’s biggest soap maker constantly talks about innovation.  3M is re-organizing sand crystals on sand paper.  GMC truck ads look like  schematics highlighting all the technology.  The latest Apple Air spots are, well, like all the other Apple spots for all their other products, minus the hip soundtrack:  dripping drop-dead gorgeous shots of the product itself.  Tech porn.  Go to the Gatorade homepage and you’ll see new versions, formulas and packages for what was once referred to as “Gatorade.”  Droid ads are Droid does.

In fact, the pace of product innovation today is mind blowing and ad-land is using a camera more than its imagination to tell the world all about it.

It wasn’t always so.  Anyone who ever connected with (the old version of) Young & Rubicam remembers brand studies through the BAV lens (Brand Asset Valuator).  I don’t remember the complete pledge we swore at most client meetings, but it went something like:  “relevant differentiation, relevant differentiation, relevant differentiation.”  In other words, find something that’s different about you that your customers care about, and say that.

Well, that was often harder than it sounds.  Parity was on good terms with most brands at the time.

We had the Jello biz.  7-UP.  MetLife.  KFC.  Advil.  Guess how many “new” versions of those products emerged every year?  Like, zero.  Maybe one.  So, we and all our pals at all the other agencies had to get people to buy more of our clients’ stuff the old fashioned way.  We had to make things up.  Leo Burnett famously said if you don’t have something to say, sing it.  So we sang our hearts out, thirty-seconds at a time.

It was great.  And the people who could dream up the best stories and bring them to life were crowned, rightly, the agency rock stars.  They created real magic.  They made us want to go to Sears.  Eat Jell-o.  Use AT&T.  Usually, without saying a word about what was actually IN the product, or what made it unique in any tangible, physical way.

But think about products today.  You can’t possibly keep up with all the brand extensions and innovations lately.  For every new version of your favorite cookie, soda or cigarette, there’re five or ten for tech gadgets.  We’ve seen how many iPhone versions since it launched three years ago?  (At least 4).  You checked out the menu at McDs lately?  There’s probably a vegan section somewhere.  And who knows what version of Facebook we’re on.

In contrast, it took over 60 years to go from Coke to Diet Coke.

Now, talk to me about great Coke commercials.

Mean Joe Green?  Yes.  Lawyers suing for patent infringement (Coke Zero)?  Not quite.

Today’s “relevant differentiation” is coming right from the products.  3-D TVs.  Plug-in cars.   Trans-fat-less, carb-less, alcohol-less beer.

Thinking back on what Leo said, I guess this means agencies today actually having something to say.

Pity, at least where advertising is concerned.  If FedEx starts touting new planes and faster-than-the-speed-of-sound conveyor belts, I might have to join the 15-year-olds and turn off the TV altogether.

http://www.callawaygardens.com/

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Are sneaky eaters chipping away at environmental progress?

sunchips-compost

Frito-Lay is replacing Sun Chips’ biodegradable packaging with the old, near-eternal kind because, they say, the earth-conscious bags are too loud.

Huh?

First, some “facts.”

The bags are apparently 28.57% louder than your basic plastic chip bag.  We know this because, during an official time out in the war on terrorism, an Air Force pilot pitted the Sun Chip bag against a Tostitos bag using a Radio Shack decibel meter.  Mercifully, Air Force pilots are now digging into other vexing issues, like leaky coffee cup lids and unabsorbent dish towels.

Also, Sun Chip sales are down.  The loud bags launched in January and sales thudded, ringing up year-on-year declines each month since February, according to SymphonyIRI.

Assuming for a moment the bag is, in fact, sandbagging sales, what’s really happening here?

The answer is obvious:  America has a sneaky eating problem.

Only people snacking on the sly could care more about chip bag noise than the environment.

Apparently, there are a lot of these folks.  Kathy Frederick, a 44-year-old computing consultant at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa, admits to the Wall Street Journal, “[Y]ou want to snack quietly and you don’t want everyone in the house to know you are eating chips.”

What’s next?  A loud, fake cough to cover the sound of a soda can opening?  Or, foam cushioning in the silverware drawer to silence an after-dinner ice cream treat?

This bag’s getting a bad (w)rap.

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You Can’t Measure Everything — Data is Killing Desire (and Big Brand Spending) on the Internet

hotandbothered

Where there’s magic, there’s margin.  I learned this from Mitch Kurz, the one-time head of measurement-maniacal Wunderman before he left Y&R a wealthy man about a decade ago.

We were talking about technology.  The internet was upon us.  He recounted how technology innovators command premiums for a moment and then, as the invention gets copied and mass-produced — as the magic wears off — the margins decline.

The great thing about the ad business, he reminded me, is that we can make magic every day.  Creativity is eternal.

Ironically, the internet, source of endless innovation, has had a chilling effect on creativity — the kind that helped launch and build our modern brand landscape (and the agencies with them).

Confusing measurable with meaningful.

We’ve been driven to distraction by data and measurability.  Click-through rates, interaction rates, open rates, download rates.  Cost-per-acquisition, -per-lead, -per-action, -per-thousand.  Engagement metrics.  Real-time optimization.  Dynamic multi-variable testing.

Our decade-long quantitative orgy has born legions of counters, lookers, finders and explainers.  Like turn-of-the-(19th)-century engineers with new tools, materials and equations, we don’t see un-crossable gaps anymore; it’s just a matter of figuring out.

But here’s the rub:  a big part of what marketers and agencies must do can’t be formulated, modeled, mechanized and analyzed.

We must create desire, and desire lives in the heart not the hard drive.  It’s called the “art” of persuasion for a reason.  Without desire, there’s little to measure.  Declining register receipts will tell us all we need to know.

For illustration, look no farther than the past year’s (day’s/week’s/month’s) headlines, and to your own experience.

Data is where the action is.  Demand side platforms.  Exchanges.  And, of course, search.

A few months ago Google bought Teracent to make “better” advertising on their display network.  What does that mean, exactly?  In their words: “Teracent maximizes the impact of every impression by seamlessly optimizing performance across user and page data from all available sources (online & offline).  Teracent deploys an unlimited number of ad creative combinations…[t]hen, sophisticated machine learning algorithms instantly select the optimal creative elements for each ad impression – based upon a real-time analysis of which items will convert from impressions into sales.”

Does that sound like it comes from someone who can make you actually want a different kind of soap?

Look at the action and investments in the space.  The money and attention lavished on measurement, ad targeting and media exchanges/arbitrage dwarf what’s spent to enhance advertising’s desire-creation power.

You already know this.

More telling than headlines, perhaps, is experience.  Think about the last time you saw an ad online that actually GOT to you.   You know, made you sit up and left you feeling like you actually WANT what you just saw.  For that matter, what’s the last banner ad you even remember, period?

Oh, unfair, you say.  Banners are just little billboards.  That’s too much to ask.  OK, open it up to online experiences.  Nothing jumping out at you?  I can think of a few.  Ikea’s online work (a microsite) gave me what I needed (that is, the feeling that their stuff is stylish enough) to brave the store and pick up some cheap furniture.  Wendy’s recent online bacon fixation festival has got me thinking about swapping out a Big Mac one of these days.

But these are the exceptions.  And, to be fair, I probably wouldn’t have seen either of these efforts were it not for the fact I’m in the biz and always looking for good online work.  I wasn’t compelled by any advertising, that’s for sure.

And that’s part of my point.  Our lust for numbers has got good ‘ole advertising ducking out of the limelight, awkward where once it was on the marquee.  Like it’s unseemly to even try to make someone want you anymore.  Or, worse, a waste of time and money compared to watching click-through rates.

Anyone else notice how we softly swallow words like “brand” and “perception” in the big meetings these days, lest we open ourselves up to mockery from the lead-generators and click-counters?  “What’s the ROI?” is the new guillotine for work designed to make someone actually desire something.

And so…?

This all begs two questions:  why is this happening and what should be done about it?

Responses will vary, from “this isn’t happening (Creativity online is alive and well, you idiot, look at the last few Cannes Cyber Lions award-winners) to “we shouldn’t do anything about it” (It’s long past time we stopped dumping money into things we can’t measure, moron, so don’t send us backwards).

But, more importantly, what are we going to do about this?

Probably nothing, until the pain gets a little more unbearable.  Ultimately, it’s pretty simple:  we’ll give advertisers what they need to warrant real investment in the space.

The recession sped things up.  The people who own the biggest, most-popular, most-visited websites on earth are not making enough money (with one notable exception).  There are two ways to solve this problem.  They can ask visitors for money directly (subscriptions), or they can ask advertisers to pay for the privilege of communicating with visitors (advertising).  Or, a combination of both.

Well, that’s not news.  Yes, they need more subscribers and more money from advertising.  Let’s save the subscriber talk for another day.

The fact is, we know what advertisers want and we’re not delivering it online, yet.

Advertisers pay a lot, relatively speaking, for the chance to create desire among potential customers.

They don’t pay much to be ignored.

To the chagrin of purists hoping for an endless buffet of great, ad-free, online content, what we really need is more intrusive online advertising.  It’s not creativity we lack.  We don’t have the right canvas, yet.

I think deep down we all know this.  But many of us, addicted to content without commercial interruption, still fantasize out loud about a world where all advertising is so entertaining and engaging that we happily tease it from the corner of our screens or urge its crawl from a banner.

Please.

We basically don’t like watching advertising just like we basically don’t like paying the check at dinner.  One is required; the other ought to be.  It’s the price we must pay.  Some checks are easier to swallow than others.  Same for ads.

Until now, sites have all but hidden the ads because they’re too worried about irking visitors.  One can defy the laws of economics for only so long, however.  If these sites don’t start making money, that problem, along with their employees, servers, offices, and domain names, will go away.

How do I know it’ll work?

Giving advertisers what they need goes beyond just the creative, however. They need proof that it’s worthwhile, and we’ve failed here as well.  As such, we also need a better bridge between the un-measurable and sales (and better use of the tools already available).

Marketers need numbers to justify their budgets and employment.  We’ve been spending way too much time measuring the wrong things in online advertising.  That must change.

Because we can’t measure the immeasurable – the direct effect of desire-creating advertising on individual sales – we approximate it using tools developed over the past fifty years.  We use proxies to correlate the link.  When advertising makes people remember and recall a brand more, become more likely to recommend it and think of it in better terms, for instance, sales tend to improve.

These proxies don’t exist sufficiently online to persuade marketers to move their money.  We need to create them.  Firms like Dynamic Logic have tools that can help.  We need more of them.  More importantly, we need to use these tools a lot more.  That creates benchmarks that help marketers understand the impact on sales of their online desire-creating efforts.

With understanding comes trust, and with trust comes money.

The first step, though, is getting advertisers a more compelling (intrusive) platform for their work.  Easy-to-ignore banners won’t command the attention, or money, needed.

Let’s get back to the show.

Broadly viewed, we will forever seek to persuade people to buy one brand over another.  The internet, as a connected and connecting vehicle, is the most powerful to date and, as such, will be the center of gravity for marketing going forward.  The most engaging medium always is.

Until now, we have failed to harness the desire-creating potential of the medium.

Perhaps, a combination of factors puts us on the verge of change.  The novelty of measuring everything possible is giving way, ten years later, to real data fatigue.   The great recession is emboldening sites to offer more intrusive ad units — forsaking some user experience purity for some cash.  And, technology is making a whole lot possible in a relatively small space on websites, enabling advertisers to make new, more powerful connections with audiences.

As we shift our focus and the pendulum swings back from data to desire, we in the ad biz can look forward to creating work with, literally, unimaginable creativity.  Work that stops people, actually creates a sensation and, more importantly, gets them to want what we’re selling.

In other words, work that works like magic for our clients’ brands, margins included.

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Publishers dug the banner hole. Time to dig themselves out.

shovel

Photo Credit:http://www.flickr.com/photos/sofiakatariina/1593416193/

About a thousand of us watched a digital ad presentation recently, giant screen looming behind the speaker featuring that day’s Yahoo! home page.  “Who was the advertiser on that page?” the speaker asked as the slide faded a minute later.  Dead silence.  Nobody had noticed.

Whose fault is that?

I’ve heard it all by now:

The agency sucks — they can’t make ads that are “so compelling people will seek them out.”

Ad networks are to blame — they’ve run so many Disneyworld ads on porn sites that “real” brands (with “real” advertising) are scared away.

Ad servers don’t work — they fail to put “just the right ad in front of just the right person at just the right time” to guarantee notice.

And, of course, my favorite:  nobody’s done anything wrong at all — advertising simply doesn’t “belong” on the Internet.

The fact is, there is one person and one person only to blame for the invisibility of banner ads today:  the publisher.  Yes, the same folks who lament the banner ad revenue free-fall that’s got everyone strategizing about, grandstanding over and, in Murdoch’s case, just plain erecting — paywalls, subscription models and other make-money-without-advertising schemes.

Here’s an idea:  MAKE THE ADS BIGGER!

I was at a different conference last week.  The VCs were presenting.  Money was the topic, naturally.

They’ve noticed that most of the $25 billion or so spent on American online advertising is the search and direct response kind.  That’s odd, they reckon, because on TV and in magazines and what not, there are gazillions spent on BRAND advertising.  But not on the Internet.

Hmmm.  Smells like an opportunity.  Why, they wondered, aren’t brand dollars flooding the Internet like so much Bud money on a football game?  They had a few reasons, including those already noted.  And they took the obligatory swipe at weak measurement and analytics  — like it’s the turnstile’s fault people don’t use an invisible subway stop.

But they didn’t say this:  the basic online ad unit — the banner — isn’t worth buying if you’re trying to build a brand.  Other than those little odd-sized ads in the lower margins of the newspaper, banner ads must be the most invisible ads on earth.

This is great news for the masses.  It’s like listening to the radio all day long, but you don’t even have to reach out and change the station every time there’s an ad.  Banner ads are so easy to miss it’s like they’re not there.

It’s Internet nirvana.  Online Utopia.

And it’s time for that nonsense to end.  Past time, really.

Publishers, you can do it.  You have been held hostage for long enough.  That pristine, ad-free, entitled experience we all expected 10 years ago is fading.  And, anyway, you’re going broke.  What choice do you have?

Give brands something worth buying — something they can actually use to build and strengthen their brands — and they’ll pay you good money.  Your visitors will understand.  They won’t abandon you, though they may run into the kitchen for a sec.  And, on the bright side, there’s no TIVO online.  Yet.

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