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Where is digital advertising going?

Advertising is seen as the way to get a brand’s message to the public. It’s the vehicle that pushes what a company says about itself and its products. But as we find ourselves at the beginning of the Digital Age, digital advertising has been co-opted to mean direct marketing. These two ideas, branding and direct response marketing, are worlds apart and could be a reason why companies have had such a difficult time transitioning their branding messages of traditional , or analog, advertising to that of online advertising.

Advertising is a vehicle to reach the emotions of an audience. The deep, fundamental question of advertising: is it used to create awareness or drive a sale? In recent years, there has been a causal linkage – if you know of a brand, you’re more than likely to purchase said brand. But doesn’t the same hold true if you heard about a product from your best friend? Has advertising fallen on its face because of word-of-mouth? I have a friend who only buys products that are recommended by friends, colleagues, family, etc. because he wants to claim that advertising does not influence his purchasing power. My response: when walking down the street and you run into another friend who is wearing Nike sneakers and THEN raves about the sneaks, isn’t that advertising? My friend’s ultimately futile response, “But it’s not paid media!” And here’s the kicker: word of mouth advertising is a brand’s best friend and the Internet is the ideal vehicle for this.

Social networks spread the gospel; whether it’s for sneakers or bags or whatever, products (and subsequently, brands) are getting more play than ever. The downside is that brands can no longer control their message. There is a conversation that is happening and brands are trying to figure out how to be a part of it. That’s the key. If a brand enters a conversation trying to dominate it, people will walk away. On the flip side of that, people will flock to a brand that is (whether truly or perceived) transparent. Why? Because people want to be involved in the process. This is the epitome of a democracy (yes, I know, we’re actually a republic, but you know what I’m getting at).

More importantly, brands are now able to measure their successes and their failures. The quantitatives can now support or refute the qualitatives. And this brings me back to how advertisers can use the Web as a proper portal for their products: stop assuming that consumers want deals. Yes, we like coupons. Yes, we like savings. But we also like exploring for new products. We like seeing a commercial or ad and then finding more about the product. Even more, we like being the first one ot find out about something and tell our network. Agencies, have your creatives reflect this. Be just that: creative. Mezmerize us. Entrhall us. Make us go, “wow. I need to send this to my friends.” MAKE US LOVE YOU!!!

This is where digital advertising is heading. We’re seeing the embryonic stages of this, but should embrace this philosophy to the next level. Digital creatives need to tell a story and be consistent with other pieces of the narrative — print, tv, radio. The messages also need to be consistent – -whether the CEO is talking to the media or you’re putting together an ad. How many people will only buy shoes from Zappos because we love the engagement and transparency of the company?

Digital advertising has the potential to revolutionize the way brands and companies communicate with consumers.

About joshsternberg

Josh Sternberg is the content strategist for The Washington Post. Prior to that he was the media reporter for Digiday. Additional bylines include: The Atlantic, The Awl, Pacific Standard, Mashable, Huffington Post, Mediaite.


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