A Scenic Tour of the Online World

Is Traditional Advertising Even Less Effective Online Than Off?

Tuesday, June 17th, 2014

Very interesting article last week from The Atlantic. The not so subtle headline? Does Internet Advertising Work at All?

Attention getting, to be sure, but it’s not just link bait. There is data coming to light that online advertising isn’t really working.

One example is a study of search ads placed by eBay that found no correlation between exposure to the ads and likelihood of making a purchase. The study looked at “the most frequent Internet users,” so there should be some validity to the data. (As opposed to a study of infrequent users who go online for very narrow purposes and are unlikely to click on just about anything at all.)

Other factors come in to play, as well, including intent and mindset of online surfers when they see search-based advertising and whether correlation and causation are being confused.

All that said, I’m not sure this is really an indictment of online advertising but of ALL traditional advertising. And that seems to me to point to the growing strength and importance of content marketing. People want to be informed, educated, and entertained. They do not want to be barked at by companies making unverifiable claims. (Even verifiable claims aren’t readily believable because of the way data is so easily manipulated by everyone from marketers to politicians.)

The author sums this up perfectly: (Italics and bolding mine.)

Think about how much you can learn about products today before seeing an ad. Comments, user reviews, friends’ opinions, price-comparison tools: These things aren’t advertising (although they’re just as ubiquitous). In fact, they’re much more powerful than advertising because we consider them information rather than marketing. The difference is enormous: We seek information, so we’re more likely to trust it; marketing seeks us, so we’re more likely to distrust it.


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