March 27, 2019
By: Jaffer Ali
(Originally Published: 3/2/2010)
When bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed banks, he reportedly replied, "because that's where the money is." As online marketers we adopt a variation of Mr. Sutton's theme each time we assume that ad dollars will follow the flocks to the Internet. Alas, only half that assumption proved true: the flocks showed up but the ad dollars didn't. That's like showing up to rob the bank only to discover that the bank has no cash.
The digerati simply assumed that ad dollars would pour into online media assets because that's where the eyeballs are, and the ad dollars always follow the eyeballs. That's true to an extent, but the cautious increase in ad spend has hardly kept pace with the dramatic increase in consumer time spent online.
We need to ask ourselves why. Why haven't online ad dollars kept pace with audience growth? We know that we can reach a lot of people online, and theoretically, ad dollars should accompany that reach. Maybe we need to revisit our definition of reach. The August 2009 Microsoft research report on online advertising defines reach as "...the number of people exposed to a particular ad."
Of course we long ago exchanged the ability to reach prospects online for the ability to target them instead, and just because we target someone doesn't mean we actually reach them. Remember, no one except media and marketing professionals wants more ads, and everyone (including media and marketing professionals) is equipped to avoid them, so we can no longer delude ourselves with the lazy notion that an ad exposure equals reach. For digital marketers, to call online ad exposure reach is like TV executives selling the potential reach of DVRs because they help consumers speed through far more ads in far less time.
Microsoft's definition of reach describes a media universe that simply no longer exists; it describes a world where exposure alone equals reach and where consumers are compelled to tolerate advertising because they aren't equipped yet to avoid it and because cable TV hasn't been invented yet. Clearly, that world no longer exists. Adding insult to injury, the same Microsoft media experts then describe reach as "...a critical metric to advertisers for planning and measuring the success of campaigns." In short, they start with a ridiculously outdated premise and then bet the farm on it.
We all know that branding is a function of reach. But if what we call online reach (for lack of a better term) isn't really reaching anyone, how and where is the branding supposed to happen, and why are we using the term at all? We need to redefine reach if we expect to brand in scale online because the current advertising-as-intermediary model doesn't really reach anyone and isn't scalable. What actually is scaling is "non-reach" because our banner ads are so readily ignored.
What if we redefine effective reach as the number of authentic visitors delivered to a branded website - the only place where the advertiser can completely control the branding experience? What if we then use our new definition of effective reach to replace the current CTR entirely (and all but eliminate the potential for massive click fraud in the process)?
But is the above definition of reach scalable? Not under the current advertising-as-intermediary model - a blessing in disguise since the wherewithal to scale a model that delivers a product no one wants and everyone is equipped to avoid is a sure road to ruin (why anyone would want to scale abject failure is a mystery to me).
Contrary to current industry myopia, the answer isn't to provide more relevant advertising. No one wants more ads, "relevant" or otherwise. The answer is to reach prospects with something everyone wants, plain and simple, and everyone with high-speed access wants the same thing: more video.
The next question is how do you target them? The answer is simple: you don't. All commercial media are now and always have been on-demand. Your prospects will target you for the same reasons and in the same ways that they've flocked to their favorite radio and TV programs for the past eight decades: good content not only aggregates eyeballs, it attracts specific audience demos as well - all of them self-selecting. Apparently, not only do we need to redefine reach, but we need to redefine who does the reaching as well, because it sure as hell isn't the advertisers and marketers, and never was. We don't reach the audience. They reach us.
Simple common sense dictates that no one aggregates anywhere specifically to watch the ads, and we don't need to target and hunt down an online audience that's already more than happy to target us. We just need better bait to capture their attention. We need quality unbranded bait that doesn't put prospects off right away and doesn't put the brand at risk in rented third-party environments full of competing brands and stealth tracking technologies, none of which the advertiser can possibly control. By contrast, a single unbranded video thumbnail culled from a great classic movie clip on a website is far more compelling than any ad and far more scalable for the same reason. Besides, we can't scale something no one wants, and we'd have to forgive those who would call us idiots for trying.
All along we've tried in vain to insert the ad in the content environment when it makes far more sense for all players - advertisers, publishers and content producers alike - to insert the content directly in the ad environment on the advertiser's branded website instead, and use unbranded video thumbnails across the networks to deliver self-selecting audiences to the branded destination sites. In other words, don't post your ads on publisher sites; consumers clearly don't want them. Find a way instead to bring self-qualified consumers to your own brand message on your own website where you control the brand environment. The best place for brands to assert and maintain true relevance is on their own sites in their own environments.
This means a simple, yet radical departure for media and advertising brands. It means having Sports Illustrated articles read on Adidas or Nike sites. It means having The New York Times' Paul Krugman read on Chase.com. It means having viewers of Walter Payton video clips delivered to a Just For Men microsite.
Unlike the current advertising-as-intermediary model, the above destination-based ad model generates truly scalable brand reach potential. One model is predicated on pure technological imperative and is utterly unscalable, the other is predicated on common sense and is completely scalable. Branding is predicated on reach. You decide which model makes more sense for you, and give me a call if you want to talk alternatives.
"Reach" re-defined as the audience delivered to consume chosen content on an advertiser's website portends a more meaningful metric whereby brand advertisers own the eyeballs instead of just renting them - exactly as it was back in the golden years of radio and TV. It's all about engaging the audience on its own terms, and history has shown that once you capture their hearts and minds, their wallets will follow.
Original Article: Redefining Reach