It's Time to Get Back to Basics


It's another perfect day in Lala land. The sky is a money shade of blue and the wind is gently blowing up and to the right. Users rule in Lala. Everything is free and plentiful.

In Lala, ads flow like spring water. They form a rich contextual tapestry with online experiences. Money flows from them with such abundance that publishers never fret and the rich and progressive knights that rule Lala slurp free all-you-can-eat crab legs and the freshest toro in the land.

But, what is that unfamiliar sound I hear in the distance?

"I like guys that have a little bit fat, a little bit hairy back. ... I know they sometimes go to the striptease. But it's OK. I'm not jealous. He can do whatever he wants. The girlfriend. Jim Beam. The Bourbon."

These are not the southing sounds of Lala. It's my 9-year-old son and he's staring at me, reciting a Jim Beam commercial he's seen a several times watching the NBA on TV.

Yes, the boy is 10 years from a bottle of bourbon and almost as far from a girlfriend, but this is a powerful case study in the power of interruptive brand advertising. The Jim Beam ad will no doubt ring in his head when he orders his first cocktail. And that's the point.
We are witnessing the collision of an unrealistic and utopian future of advertising with an interruptive one that has made the business of the media work for more than 50 years. An immature medium wrestling with its future against a dark economic backdrop is creating the urgency to reconcile.
On one side, media companies are struggling to adjust to a world where every digital touch point has become advertising inventory, creating an ocean of page views that the market can't meaningfully monetize. Google isn't solving it. Networks aren't either. On the other, advertisers are not quite convinced that they can persuade users with silent 300 by 250 pixel packages. Clearly they are looking for something bigger than the banner. Something with cultural gravitas. Something my son will remember.
A couple of weeks ago, I put some of my thoughts about the online brand market into a blog post ( My point was straightforward: there are a couple of significant issues holding back growth of brand advertising online. Ad units are not delivering attention, whether through interruption or other means. Moreover, the prevailing currency (CPM) is not capturing the attention value of online media.
These ideas are not new. What is interesting, however, was the assertion that, after years of denial and tons of failed innovation, the Internet needed to start acting more like its traditional media ancestors. This is bigger issue than pre-roll or no pre-roll. Publishers might have to get more aggressive across the board. Consumers might have to reacquaint themselves with the value trade-offs that are core to all free, ad-supported media experiences. You give and you get.

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