By Mike Chapman
What are publishers to do about online advertising?
They definitely have to do something, judging by the comments from panelists at the Wednesday afternoon Advertising Week session "Digital Publishing in the Age of New Media." The tone was set by Huffington Post vp Andy Wiedlin when he said, "The Web is a cesspool of cheap inventory." The easy availability of low-cost online advertising space was a theme, and a problem, the panel returned to several times at the event, which was moderated by Adweek's Brian Morrissey. The other panelists—Liz Harz, evp of global media at Electronic Arts, Erin Clift, svp of global sales at AOL, and Maria Mandel, vp of marketing and innovation at AT&T—all agreed in various ways that the Web has failed as a venue for brand building.
Solutions offered included a much heavier use of social media, in pursuit of the holy grail of engagement. Wiedlin cited his own site's arrangement with Hewlett-Packard whereby content that is shared always carries a message that it was "Brought to you from the Huffington Post by HP," ensuring that the advertiser benefits as the content is redistributed around the social graph.
But though all the panelists agreed that "advertising just has to get better," suggestions for how that could happen were limited. "Advertising has to provide utility," said Clift. Added Mandel: "The line is blurring between content and advertising." Harz cited an insurance company that made an app that you could use when you were in an accident.
But none outlined a mechanism whereby publishers could force advertisers to produce better advertising. As a member of the audience observed, "What, are publishers going to reject advertising that does not meet the required standard?" Hardly.
Perhaps publishers will also have to act like ad agencies and only run advertising they create for their clients? That might address the quality issue. And if everyone joined in, would probably address the supply problem, too.