Thursday, September 21, 2006

Advertising 2.0 and the internet as entertainment

First published in Marketing magazine in Sept '06, I set out to show how the internet was moving from being a task-based to an entertainment-based medium.  Just four years on, we now pretty much take this for granted; but what I went on to say was that it was an opportunity for the resergence of the advertising industry - a business that had lost its way.  Has advertising 2.0 appeared yet?  Perhaps not, but I'm still hoping...

Have you gone online in the last day for no specific reason? Of course not – you’re busy. But if you had, you’d be one of a growing number of people whose internet use is shifting in a significant way.

According to the Pew Internet survey, 39% of broadband users said yes to this question, compared to 23% of dialup users. This apparently pretty innocuous figure reveals much about the changing nature of internet use.

Five years ago, internet use was primarily task-focused. We went online, sent email, checked our bank accounts, bought stuff. Broadly, our activities were information-centred.

Now, we’re swapping photos, watching video, listening to the radio. We’re uploading stuff, downloading stuff, following celebs on TMZ and popbitch and dobbing them in on gawker stalker. We’re being entertained.

We still do all that banking, shopping and emailing – more if anything. But the big leap in time spent online is coming from content that’s entertaining. Most of the focus recently has been devoted to user generated content, and certainly growth there has been phenomenal. A UK Neilsen//NetRatings study showed last week that YouTube grew 478% in the first six months of this year, and the three fastest growing sites were user-generated.

But it’s not just users who are behind this. With the BBC, Channel 4 and Sky putting more and more entertainment content online, and MSN, AOL and Yahoo adding to this, the web’s content mix is changing fundamentally.

The European Interactive Advertising Association ( Mediascope study shows this to be happening across Europe. Wherever we see high broadband share (UK, France, Spain) we see high consumption of entertainment content.

Of course for advertisers this all means bigger audiences online – in fact a double whammy of audience growth as usage growth is boosted further by penetration growth. But at least as significant, it’s likely to mean that people are consuming the medium in a different state of mind, and this has huge implications for advertisers.

In the past, the predominantly task-focused nature of usage meant that relevance to the content was critical to making advertising work. Bluntly if you wanted to sell mortgages, you did best in financial or home improvement environments. As web consumption becomes increasingly leisure-centric, relevance to the task becomes less important. Instead, we will seek to divert people from their leisure by engaging their interest. Advertising in this scenario will become less factual and more ideas-based. Sound familiar?
Yes, it’s just like the advertising we know and love.

In all the clutter of this and other media, a compelling, single-minded communication idea is beyond value. An idea is the means by which we engage on a deeper level with consumers – it’s the key to memorability, to cut-through, to success.

Let’s be honest. This hasn’t been the web’s strongest suit. But it’s not the fault of the medium – rather those who work in it, and since they’ve all been focused on direct response advertising where memorability isn’t such a requirement, perhaps this is inevitable.
So as the medium’s ability to deliver audiences in leisure mode grows, the importance of the communication idea grows too. But will what we see be advertising?

It’s almost certainly not going to be a 30” spot. It’s as likely to be a search strategy, a sponsorship or a film. It could be PR, mobile or user generated. What we can see already is that the creation of communication ideas in this new online world is done by media and creative people together, and that the line is blurring between what’s considered ‘media’ and what ‘creative’. But it is advertising nevertheless, and as audiences continue to desert other media, it will become at last a tool for FMCGs, who have so far found little to interest them on the web.

Creativity will again become a vital force for exploiting this, and communication skills will be at a premium. This will be a force in the resurgence of advertising. Maybe this will be advertising 2.0.

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