Most Online Advertising Still Doesn't Start Conversations

Steve Rubel on Digital Communications

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On the internet today, asking for feedback is in.

The media already are onboard. Virtually all journalists solicit feedback by listing their e-mail addresses next to their bylines. Some go even further by overtly asking for help with their stories.

Companies, too, are slowly transitioning their communication strategies toward more open, collaborative programs. They are actively trolling social networks and forums in search of insights. Some, but not yet many, are engaging stakeholders directly through venues such as blogs.

Steve Rubel
Photo: JC Bourcart
Steve Rubel is a marketing strategist and blogger. He is senior VP in Edelman's Me2Revolution practice.
But what about online advertising? For now, display and search ads both remain unidirectional paradigms. However, there are some early signs that they may also start to open up to feedback.

CNet and AOL Networks both invite consumers to respond to their ads. Survey links underneath banners ask respondents to rate ads' relevance, emotive content and ability to move the user to purchase.

Other experiments are bolder. Federated Media has launched campaigns where clients' creative changes based on blog chatter. In 2005, Weblogs Inc. (now part of AOL) launched Focus Ads, which featured reader comments underneath ads, but has abandoned the program.

There's a lot of room for innovation here. Advertisers can and should be using their creative not just for branding or direct response but for soliciting input. Further, digital creative doesn't need to be fixed. It can adjust in real time, like a mood-ring response, to what people say on their own sites.

The media companies should be taking the lead here to encourage advertisers to become more conversational. But despite some early progress, I would be surprised to see this happen.

That's because digital advertising, like print and broadcast, remains the last safe haven for one-way communication. Marketers aren't ready to rock the boat yet. There will always be a place for the traditional, even if those strategies begin to take a back seat in the emerging mix of options brand marketers increasingly have in the digital space.
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