With So Many Start-Ups, Only You Can Save Web 2.0

But Those Looking for Advertising to Save Them Need to Think Again

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Years ago, the Advertising Council created a landmark campaign with Smokey the Bear that had a rather ominous tagline. It read: "Only you can prevent forest fires." The subtext, which the recent fires in California clearly reminded us, was that the word "only" implies that the "you" here is singular. In other words, if you're not out there preventing forest fires, then no one will.

While not quite as dramatic, a similar burden is starting to fall on digital marketers. Are your shoulders feeling heavier yet? They should because, you see, "only you" can save Web 2.0.
Steve Rubel
Photo: JC Bourcart
Steve Rubel is a marketing strategist and blogger. He is senior VP in Edelman's Me2Revolution practice.

Nearly every online start-up you can think of is basing its business model on advertising. It's as if your digital budgets are a bottomless pot of money with more than enough to go around for everyone. Ask any of them how they plan to stay solvent, and they all fire off the "a-word": advertising.

The conventional wisdom in Silicon Valley is that as all advertising goes digital, there will be plenty of money for every business. Further, they argue, it doesn't take much to make a start-up profitable. The cost of starting, scaling and operating a Web 2.0 site is a fraction of what it was during the Web 1.0 era.

However, just as Social Security won't allow every baby born this year to retire in 2072, the harsh reality is that there will not be enough ad dollars to go around. For starters, advertisers have infinitely more choices on where and how to spend their budgets. More important, you're wisely looking for return on investment -- scale, quality and performance. These are three qualities many start-ups lack.

The only remaining exit strategy for the gaggle of Web 2.0 sites depending on you is to sell themselves to larger players, such as Google, Yahoo, AOL or Microsoft. Some certainly will. Many won't.

Now, it needs to be noted that I am as optimistic about technology's long-term impact on business, society and marketing as perhaps anyone you know. I bet my career on digital marketing. However, since I started my blog, lots of people have rightfully made fun of how much I touted every little new site to come along.

If you feel you've seen this movie before, you have -- in 2000. The sequel ends the same way, but without as much carnage. That might change. But remember: Only you can save Web 2.0.
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