Monday, 5 May 2008


If you ask pretty much anyone, anywhere to name the world's most famous ad in all of ad history, this ad - Hilltop for Coca Cola by McCann Erickson would almost definitely be at the top of that list. Big tick for McCann at their peak in what would be considered by most as the golden age of broadcast advertising.

If you asked anyone, anywhere to name their favourite online ad they might find that difficult. Ask them to name the world's most famous online ad and that task becomes a real challenge. They might be able to name a few virals, but no online ads have yet impacted on the culture in the same way as Hilltop. But perhaps we are asking the wrong question. Are online ads a reflection of the culture in the same way as broadcast ads, or as some would argue a more spartan form of commercial proposition - straight and direct?

There was a golden age because it was easier, with just a few stations, papers, channels. Now with pretty much unlimited choice winning and holding attention is supremely challenging. We don't all sit down and watch the same shows at the same time anymore.

Also economics tells us that when people and money are being drawn away from one thing to something else - on both the supply and demand side - then that new thing is more efficient. Lord Leverhulme used to say that 50% of his advertising budget was wasted, but he just didn't know which 50% it was. So for every Hilltop we had thousands of duds. Online advertising cannot hide behind the same screen - Lord Leverhulme's 50% problem has been solved.

However, Lord Leverhulme would face a new problem today, which is the clutter and competition, and the power of the consumer. They are in control. And so now we have to offer more than just saying how great our product is, and offer some form of utility above and beyond the product in our communications:- utility advertising. So rather than selling the product in the banner advert, we sell the click. The click is the promise of what lies behind the banner on the landing page. For an oil company I once worked with, I didn't sell the opportunity to buy its premium fuel, I sold instead the opportunity to find out what type of driver you might be (and incidently everyone could be a better driver with our premium fuel). People don't talk about banners but they talk about websites. The combination is our equivalent of the TV spot, they don't work on their own like a film without the sound. Utility advertising uses the banner to sell the promise of the landing page, and its that joint experience that sells the product.

Expect to see better and better advertising as formats evolve, bandwidth increases, and budgets increase. It's not yet the golden age for digital advertising, but it's starting to happen. Much of the traditional advertising industry is still working to the approaches of the so called Golden Age. Perhaps it's time - in the words of the song - the rest of us taught that world how to sing a new song.

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