At the End of the Day

mesmile In the long term, the underpinning of website viability by the old media advertising model is not sustainable. It’s a drain on site-owners’ time, an unreal mirage for advertisers, and a pain in the backside for internet users. 


My day was made quite early on this morning when I discovered that Owen Jones’s one man show had been cancelled due to poor bookings. One wag tweeted that it looked likely to turn into the world’s first Audience of One show. Overall, the episode (like the Rock for Corbyn bollocks) demonstrates almost poetically how the petrified forests of hardline socialists who hijacked the Labour Party are almost as out of touch with The People as the archaeological artefacts who now run the Conservative Party.

In that latter arena, Phillip Hammond was reported by sources to have described Boris Johnson as “utterly incapable of grown-up politics”, which Hamshank then denied by saying this had been “misheard”, and that what he really said was that Boris “has his own way of doing things”. On that basis, it seems to me that hearing aid salesmen are too thin on the ground at the Tory Conference.

The rest of the day was taken up (once garden chores had been moved forward) with visits to endless MSM, energy, and geopolitical websites in the hunt for a story which, with luck, will appear in these columns tomorrow. But the at times tedious search for information took something from the back of my mind to the front. It’s a big subject, but this is the debating point:

‘Are old media income models swamping the new media?’

I ask this not just as a former adman, but also as a run of the mill observer who has seen huge things achieved by so-called crowd sourcing. And no, I’m not suggesting that sourcing the Wisdom of Crowds is any kind of complete answer to the problem.

When one arrives at a site using the advertising model of “media” as defined in my day, the following things happen:

  • You’re asked if you accept the cookies thing
  • An ad pops up right in the way of what you want to read
  • Once you click the ‘x’ in the top-right corner of the ad, Google asks you endless braindead questions about why you don’t want to see the ad
  • Along the bottom left of the white band of your laptop screen or whatever, it will say “waiting for….” – and the thing you’re not waiting for (but the site is) will almost certainly be an ad.
  • A panel will appear asking if you want to subscribe to the site
  • Another panel will appear asking if you want three free articles a month
  • The site will freeze.

Infinite numbers of analogies could be applied to this bonkers reality, but the simplest of all involves asking, “When customers walk into your shop, do you subject them to varietal lunatic goblins thrusting clipboards into their faces while deliberately screening off the available stock?”

Now the response to that question from the emerging Web-committed generation is, “Fine – if you don’t want to see the ads, download the freely-available software to banish the ads from your internet experience”….to which my answer is threefold: first, yeh right – just try doing it and see how many new pop-ups appear offering reasons to undo it; second, very few people do this, because if they did, advertisers would desert the web; and third, if they did, all the sites you want to view would go into liquidation overnight.

We’re back in the territory here of generals fighting the next war with the weapons of the last one. In the 1950s, British TV advertising bowed to the genres of American commercials: there were demonstrations of miraculous product efficacy, there were jingles a-plenty, there were even sponsored programmes with actors asking other actors, “I say Rafe, have you tried these new Craven-A cigarettes? They go down rather well with a pint of reviving Jubilee stout”.

But by the 1970s, smart British ad agencies had realised that you had to engage, entertain and amuse TV consumers if some kind of ‘brand rapport’ was to be established. This began to fall by the wayside as multiple retailers eroded brand loyalty, mass citizen incomes fell behind those of the nouvelles élites, and then internet sales cut prices further thanks to their zero investment in property overheads.

In 2018, there is little or no brand loyalty on the internet: almost everything is down to price and just-in-time delivery. And so advertisers should surely ask themselves, is this the right place for us to be? Equally, site owners should be wondering, is this advertising shit the best way to support our activity….or is it actually getting in the way and/or putting people off?

Video ads, for example, are both a site load that asks the searcher to wait for the damn thing to upload and easy to screen out by clicking on “Skip ad”. If that’s the case, what’s really in it for the advertising client?

As a former professional, I also have to ask whether the time aperture thing really works for advertisers. This last week I have been booking car parking, hotels, flights and rail fares for a forthcoming trip. Every site I go to now bombards me with ads for, um, car parking, hotels, flights and rail fares. It is all utterly wasted money.

The internet has developed into a collection of social media to collect data designed to target us for marketing sales. At the same time, it has imported news, distribution, service and manufacturing brands from a pre-digital age. I can’t help feeling that it’s time advertisers realised that the old media still exist, and in real terms they are more affordable than they used to be….thanks to a more crowded and competitive media market.

Were I a young marketing manager on the way up today, I’d be asking whether there shouldn’t be a division of labour between the physical and digital media. Namely, the latter are for gathering data for customer relationship marketing; while the former are still there for dramatic launch awareness, and serious investment in brand values or innovative features that justify higher sales margins.

There is a lot of hype and BS in the marketing of digital advertising “opportunities” and spurious “hits” measures. Clients need to wise up to these, and stop being quite so bedazzled by the allure of seemingly infinite viewings. If nothing else, this would improve the consumer experience of visiting websites. Better still, it would make site owners look at new ways to make themselves financially viable and more independent.