Dec 29, 2007

What Is Digital Advertising?

While the rise of digital advertising seems to be the only thing anyone in the business is capable of talking about these days, I often find myself wondering what digital advertising really is.

Is it a "viral" video like Dove "Evolution" or Smirnoff "Tea-Partay"? Or are those really just TV spots that run on the internet instead of NBC and aren't required to be exactly 30 or 60 seconds long?

Is it an online game that pops up in a banner but gets judged by the number of people who actually click on it as if it were a DM piece? Or is it a banner that just creates awareness, like a billboard?

Is it a microsite that people go to either because they're really bored or because they want to "interact with and have a meaningful experience with" a brand?

Is it a blog that a CEO (or more likely, his PR team) writes? A message board that allows people to talk about a product most people have no interest in talking about in the first place? Or one where "conversation" is already planted?

Is it a Facebook page that's a place for serious conversation and "brand fanatics" or maybe just a place for the merely curious?

Is it a full-on website like NikePlus that creates a real retail experience and actually provides value? Or is Nike an anomaly and are most websites designed to be merely functional and well-designed for clients who don't see their ad agency as the people to come up with new business models?

Is it an optimized keyword search that probably does more to drive traffic to a website than a dozen award-winning banners, people being quite content to do their own research, thank you, or is search just the digital version of running an ad in the Yellow Pages?

Is it a virtual store in a virtual world that's going to become relevant when all the elementary school age Webkinz users hit adulthood? Or are virtual worlds just online versions of "Dungeons and Dragons" and appropriate only for things like the Sci Fi Network?

Is it a brand new playground where creatives will get to run wild or is it a metrics-based medium that's going to make creatives obsolete while making stars out of account and media planners?

Depending on the wind, I can be convinced of either side of these arguments. But I think the greater truth here is that we are all talking about something that few of us can accurately define and that even fewer of us have anywhere close to the same definition of.

And that's dangerous.

So I'll throw the question out to all of you: What is digital advertising?


Anonymous said...

just throwing my ha' penny in to this pot...

i'm inclined to agree with the descriptions you posted that are the least convoluted by ad speak (not yours, the industries)...

it IS just a spot that runs any length you want and costs less to produce ...

it IS just a pre-programmed message board from the PR department ...

you talk lot of people: how many are the brand fanatics on the facebook/beard pages? no one i ask seems to be willing to own up to it ...

i've done a few of these projects over the years and most of them get dismantled after a short while due to lack of interest on anyones part, some quicker than others as the public becomes aware of the shill nature of the "open forum" about processor speed... yeah, that fooled 'em for about 13 minutes.

clients are convinced (most of the ones i deal with) that we're looking at the newest "great frontier" and we (the advertisers) must enable their manifest destiny to blossom...

it might be an interesting bit of research to see how many client sites ( in whatever guise) were created and run, when, how long they lasted and how many are left alive and tended today...

in sum: i feel digital advertising is the same as traditional advertising. "please help me sell my wares to people everywhere", but now throw in the word "digitally" before the word "sell" and there it is, in my nutshell...

Anonymous said...

Interesting question, Toad. My personal opinion, probably not popular, is that there's a distinction between "digital advertising" and "digital marketing."

Digital advertising = interruptive marketing messages delivered in the digital space, instead of print/TV. I consider it a subset of Digital Marketing.

Digital marketing = Brand/sales-building efforts in the digital space. Could include anything from viral video to Social Networking tools to branded gaming.

Not sure this distinction matters to anyone else, but as a digital creative, it helps me think about what I'm really trying to do.

When it comes to "advertising", I feel like the challenge is trying to deliver unwanted content as innocuously as possible.

When it comes to "marketing", I feel like the challenge is trying to figure out where the audience wants to take their relationship with the brand, and then delivering on that.

Kind of flies in the face of your "YBINMF" theory, so you'll probably disagree, but that's where I net out.

HighJive said...

Does it really matter? Isn’t the bigger question, “What is advertising?”

Advertising agencies’ inability to figure out digital solutions led to the segregation of shops.

If the ad agencies hadn’t stumbled so badly, digital would have been as ubiquitous (not sure that’s the right word) as print and broadcast.

One question I have is whether digital shops will ultimately be categorized alongside other “below-the-line” enterprises (e.g. direct, promotions, multicultural, etc.). It seems like staying “below-the-line” will keep the salaries down (not necessarily a good thing), as well as potentially keep digital from gaining more respect (versus the traditional ad agencies).

Anonymous said...

I agree with HJ about reframing the question, because it seems like what our expectations of advertising are in general have been turned on our collective Subservient heads.

My take on the original question is this:

DA is just another term for people who need terms to define things for them, without which, they wouldn’t be able to get their head around the intangible.

We may be getting too granular with our definitions across the board though, because I just saw there’s discussion now of whether it’s ‘customers’ and not ‘consumers.’

Okay, I'll join in the label madness. We already have consumer-generated, user-generated, etc. Which in and of itself is a misnomer. Consumers who submit video clips for a Dortitos contest may be creating something, but they’re actually responding to the brand’s call for entries, not originating something out of the blue.

(Mentos and Diet Coke however is an example of original, unsolicited piece of YouTube madness and would qualify as CGC or UGC for me.)

Unknown said...

"Digital" to me is about a paradigm shift from the old world of broadcasting a mass message to the new one of dialog, engagement, experience. It represents a shift of power to the consumer / customer / prosumer. It's about story telling via the community. It's about a move from interruption marketing to permission marketing, from brand messaging to the power of an experience to build a brand.

To decide if something is "digital" or not, test it against the list above.

HighJive said...

This thread actually (unintentionally?) demonstrates how digital advertising still has a long way to go.

For starters, even the people professing to be experts in the arena can’t decide upon a universal designation: digital or interactive or online or Web or permission marketing or whatever. Although I guess that was the main thrust of the original post.

It seems like everyone posting here has stated valid—and arguably correct—points. But nothing’s complete. For example, david thinks it’s about a paradigm shift toward permission marketing. Um, what about spam? It’s certainly digital, but it sure ain’t moving away from interruption.

I think one potential problem with calling it digital advertising is that it starts to categorize according to media. Integrated marketing (provided you’re a proponent of it) demands a certain neutrality to media. You’re really pigeonholing yourself if your label is “digital” agency (or “digital” creative person).

If “digital” does remain “below-the-line,” you can bet that these shops will ultimately long for what every “below-the-line” enterprise desires: the chance to move beyond their pigeonhole.

Adweek recently presented a decent article about “Web” shops:

In the event that you can’t access it, and you really want to read it, let me know and I’ll email a Word doc with the story. Anyways, here are the first two sentences: “Digital agencies are improving their skills to help clients strategically, but still fall short in their ability to lead broader marketing and brand strategy, according to a new report by Forrester Research.

That inability means Web agencies in the near term will continue to be relegated to the role of implementer, while a client’s traditional shop takes the lead, said Brian Haven, a Forrester analyst.”

Of course, this doesn’t exactly apply to the shops claiming to either be integrated or media neutral.

Sorry, but I’m tired of typing about this topic. And anyone who’s read this far is probably tired of reading my typing.


Anonymous said...

shift the paradigm any way you like, but we've just gone 'round the mulberry bush with adspeak again. putting a new verbal spin on it, retreading the old spin, whatever, hasn't defined it any better.

i think highjive nailed it by going to the real question. digital, viral/new media, these are just dialects of the main language, advertising, which still needs a lot of sorting out and will need even more so with things like DaVinci mushroom cloud hanging overhead.

if we can define what our core offering is, then we can move along ANY media line, above or below, with ease for any client. till then i fear we might just be parroting catch phrases with no real meaning.

Ad Broad, oldest working writer in advertising said...

Not sure why my earlier answer to Toad's interesting query didn't post before...

Basically, I agree with LD. Seems to me that digital advertising is distinguished mainly by its medium and to separate it from "general" is about as useful as it was in the old days to talk about TV copywriters vs. writers for print. (Yes, this happened at certain agencies, resulting in consequent salary levels.)

If you're in advertising, you're thinking up ways to get people to buy things and charged with creating the best way to motivate buyers whether you disseminate your message via TV, print, matchbox covers...or yes, digital media.

The only reason digital advertising was spawned as a stepchild to general was that in the days of Pacman, digital was impossible to implement for those who couldn't sepak html: ie, most creatives. So "tech specialists" were engaged to develop ad content for a nascient and unremunerative (for agencies) medium. After clients began cutting digital into ad budget pies, most traditional agencies developed (or acquired) digital departments. But, it remains perplexing to me why DA teams (at my current shop, they're called Interatives) are brought into projects only AFTER "general" creatives have had their go at a project, a waste of brainpower reminiscent to me of Mad Men-days practice of copywriters slipping headlines under art director's doors to be illustrated.

Anonymous said...

digital advertising is that which neither advertising creatives nor the general public pays much attention to.


HighJive said...

toad’s sixth reader,

so as some have already pointed out in this thread, digital advertising is advertising.

Unknown said...

If radio advertising is a message that runs on AM or FM; print, in newspapers and magazines; TV, on the invention of Philo T. Farnsworth--then digital advertising is a commercial message that runs on the internet.
Better name? Internet advertising. Better in the sense of being clearer, if less mysterious.
Internet advertising messages are-- like all the rest of the media's messages-- good, bad, indifferent, ignored, paid attention to, boring, humorous, fatuous, compelling, dishonest, surprising, banal, predictable, wasted, essential,what have you.
It has certain intrinsic advantages and some disadvantages.
Someone once defined advertising as the use of print or electronic media to reduce the cost of marketing. It being cheaper to run a Super Bowl commercial that have door-to-door salesmen peddling Budweisers or Cadillacs or Taco Bells.

Anonymous said...

Digital advertising is just what everyone's saying it is which is advertising that runs on the internet instead of television.

But most of what's called digital advertising isn't advertising. Building a website is like designing a store and writing a blog is like PR. They fall under the marketing umbrella but they are different than advertising.

Digital creatives are why it's still a stepchild. Most of them don't get it and don't want to get it. They are designers and magazine writers looking for a gig with benefits. Nick Law at RGA was a nobody and now he's held up like he's Cabral or Bogusky.

And like you always say Toad, they are why all our salaries are going down not up.

Anonymous said...

agree with previous that there is a serious case of the emperor's new clothes in effect here. there are a lot of online charlatans out there. but they're just filling the void left by the traditional agencies/prodco who saw this coming like a slow-moving train. and did nothing.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

I realize we’re gonna end up for the forseeable future naming the type of advertising we’re talking about by the media it runs on, but digital is too broad a term.

Radio is radio, whether terrestrial or satellite. Same too for TV and OOH. No mistaking those forms of media.

But digital muddies the waters, because now, I can download a podcast of a radio show which will could have video stills in it, or ads.

And digital is not the exclusive territory of the internet, even though I’m sensing the implication from a few posts that it is. What about things like retail kiosks, CD-ROM/DVD handouts, all the current video game platforms and in-game ads, the interactive screens on all DVD menus, widgets, large digital projections on buildings at night. (That last one is definitely digital advertising even though it never runs online.)

Someone’s gotta design that stuff as part of a larger campaign, even if none of it is delivered online.

As for charlatans, yes, they’re there, but then, they always have, haven’t they? ;-p

I think it’s less pervasive in the above digital areas I mentioned and found more and more in the areas of search/SEO and those who push the latest social media sites, the sites which seem to emerge every two secs.

Alan Wolk said...

Hey- thanks to everyone for weighing in on this one.

Here's what I keep wondering though: where do we, as creatives, fit into all of this?

I frequently read things similar to what David wrote (comment #5) and have no idea what things like "It's about story telling via the community. It's about a move from interruption marketing to permission marketing, from brand messaging to the power of an experience to build a brand" mean in the real world: what forms do they take, etc.

Which was my original point: everyone seems to have their own wildly divergent ideas of how David's theories translate into the real world

And more importantly, how do we fit into all of this? On the one hand, it would be easy to see things that very much resemble TV commercials and print ads replacing banners and that's something the current crop of ad creatives can handle. (And I'm not sure all banners need to be "interactive" - if the type on the page I'm reading isn't moving, why should the ad next to it?)

But if we're looking at building full-on web sites (not microsites a la Subservient Chicken), corporate blogs, search optimization vehicles and the like, then our skill set doesn't match the task at hand.

Ad Broad brings up a good point when she notes that TV used to be considered a separate entity from print. We should also remember that many of the things ad agencies used to do on TV - creating programming like "soap operas" for example- is now done by Hollywood. That's why I question the model of things like Honeyshed: why would I hire Droga5 to do that when I could hire Paramount, Universal or any number of Hollywood production companies who've been doing things like that for years?

That's all I've got.

Happy New Year to all, and may 2008 prove to be less uncertain than 2007.

Anonymous said...

@get: i think it's a lot cheaper to have guys in sombreros running around the parking lots of america, trying to convince people to buy something than the total cost of TV advertising.

@lineman: that also describes laying out a print ad. you just have less space for all the PR copy and imagery. new media falls somewhere between the 2.

i feel, judging by the varied responses, we're still trying to wrap our collective heads around this and stirring up the waters more. put it this way: you get called into a briefing, the idea is to push on the new media front. what do you do? the same thing you do for a print or tv push.

you start thinking about the story, the benefits to highlight, the metaphors, etc. everything else is the same: tight deadlines, organizing data to build the concept, writing and beating copy to fit, finding and selecting and painting images to match... we're still essentially doing the same thing. what's changed? only the descriptors.

HighJive said...

the lower depths,

Your last comments, along with some previous comments, highlight one paradigm shift (if that’s the right term) that digital whatever introduces. In the past, you would get an assignment to do a tv, print or radio ad. And while you had the option to do something physically unique (e.g., split :15s or consecutive quarter pages), your options were somewhat finite—and you ultimately produced a tv commercial, print ad or radio spot. With digital whatever, it’s literally whatever. When the assignment is “do something digital,” the possibilities are a lot broader. Of course, there are still a lot of clients who come to the table saying, “I want an email campaign with a landing page,” but the implications for digital whatever are greater than that. Digital whatever is really a symbol (or symptom) of the new chaos in our industry.

Unknown said...

I would like to do lower depths's split-run as an experiment. Guys running around in sombreros versus a Super Bowl spot. Get the folks toting up ROI/CPI/ADI/ADD/BDI and all the rest of the lingo.
McLuhan did say something that was true: new media always initially takes on the from of the old media. Thus film did stage plays with a locked off camera; radio took vaudeville and recorded it; TV took the radio programs and sometimes the same scripts (Lone Ranger, Gunsmoke, Amos 'n' Andy) that were done on radio.
Nothing wrong with any of that. Makes sense.
Eventually someone (an artist) realizes the medium. It seems to me--and I may not be as conversant as most of the folks here and thus I may just be stating the obvious--that the Internet is perfectly fine as a kind of synthesizer of print, radio, TV, film, but what makes it unique both to advertisers and users is the interactivity that is missing from other media.
The internet is still searching for its artists, isn't it? Or are they practicing somewhere I haven't been. Or is the internet bereft of the potential for art, and merely an extension of the Library of Alexandria combined with chat.

HighJive said...

the lower depths and Get,

Guys running around in sombreros might be deemed politically incorrect. And definitely unwelcome in certain parts of Texas, Arizona, California and other locales.

Anonymous said...


unless they're selling the local tacqueria and the costume is mandatory, then it's just wage slavery...

LOL, : )

Anonymous said...

@ get:

the internet & new media in general have a slew of artists...none of them really conform to the needs of the advertising community but will lend their services for a fee, see joshua davis, i promise to be you, and scores of others utilizing the web/new media portals for some truly groundbreaking stuff. as an example, see what joshua did for BMW.

most of the time, these artists are pushing limits of the new media experiences, and as we all know, advertising does not really push limits so much as reenforce boundaries.

Alan Wolk said...

@Get: Interesting point about McLuhan and new media recreating old ones.

Right now the thing that's confusing to most people about how the interweb fits into advertising's grand scheme is that it serves a multitude of purposes. The interactivity gives it a wide range of utilitarian-based (as opposed to entertainment-based)functionality and so things like e-commerce stretch the boundaries of our definition of media.

Sometimes the sites themselves are the vehicle and sometimes they're just the housing for the vehicle. (Sub Chix being an easy example of the former, being an easy example of the latter)

And we haven't even gotten to the place where all our various media are going to be intersecting, where one device will deliver TV shows, radio stations, newspapers and e-commerce sites.

At that point, I believe, we will stop defining digital media by the technology and start defining it by the function, e.g. video entertainment vehicles, audio entertainment vehicles, interactive message boards, etc.

Anonymous said...

get makes really great points.

the generation that will define the medium is still in school basically. right now it's old TV duffers like myself in a position of power. TV was second nature to me. the internet will be second nature to my kids. there will be a lag.

btw, get, what do you do?

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Further complicating things is the client part of the equation. For the most part, they’re more confused than anyone. I’ve seen too many who need to have an agency now for everything. A search agency for SEO. Out 'traditional' agency for offline. Our PR agency. Our interactive shop to do stuff our own IT can’t even handle, (and I don’t mean funky creative either, but getting their asses in gear to run even simple promotions on their website or intranet).

The problem with this becomes none of the agencies on the brand talk to each due to pissing contests over territory. Not to mention how each of those entities more and more now claim they can do what the others can.

Everyone then gets their nose out of joint because the media agency is trying to do creative and the offline agency is trying to do a funky microsite, etc.

But the one I blame for this mess is the brand.

Our collective bud George talks about BDAs, but for me, BDBs (Big Dumb Brands) will loom even larger in 2008, and muddy the waters further because many just don’t get it.

For every BMW Mini DOM who has fun with the brand and lets their agency push things, there are 50 brands who think running their :30 TV commercial on YouTube qualifies as 'viral.’

Because of that, they’ll keep getting taken advantage by so-called full-service agencies more than willing to gouge them.

Unknown said...

toad's sixth reader asked what i do...
not much...
i did work in the ad business for many years and liked it, had the good fortune to work with people i liked and clients that often were geniuses or entrepreneurs of great courage...
at present, i am--among other things--trying to be an actor, writer, reader...the last of which has been successful so I just knocked off Mark Twain and am starting to get into Dickens...

Anonymous said...

Are we creatves or media people? Why is this discussion about defining different mediums of media? Here's the answer: "Digital Advertising" is a medium. It comes in many forms. Many were discussed here - and some have yet to be discovered. Is this not obvious?

If we have a brand idea it should be able to translate into any media or even better - it should be able to translate into anything: Your idea should be able to be incorporated into the design of car, the experience of an environment, a web banner, a microsite (bleh), a drive way, a mail box, a uniform, and the list goes on, right?

What is digital Advertising? It's Advertising in a digital media. Am I missing something?

Alan Wolk said...

@Yay: If it were "obvious," we wouldn't be having this discussion now, would we?

Because what seems obvious to you may not appear that way to someone else and there's clearly a lot of confusion about what people mean when they say "digital advertising" that's not easily explained away by saying something that runs in a digital media. There are just too many variables, too many definitions of what even constitutes a digital media.

And all those people think that their interpretatoin is incredibly obvious, too.

Welcome aboard.