Here’s a thought that’s been bugging me ever since I read Daniel Victor’s very interesting post about monitizing the web.
And this weeks announcment that the brilliant (and I mean brilliant) Who Ate All the Pies? will be closing made this problem a matter of urgency.
Web journalism is the best there is. I say this with confidence because not only can it emcompass all the other mediums — TV, radio, print — it can also add a whole lot more. Ergo sum, web journalism is the best there is.
So why does it not make any money?
I think it’s because we know, and share, too much.
What do I mean? Many things. To make it easier, I’ll use a massive brand here in the UK, mobile phone network o2.
Their marketing arm is massive. They sponsor everything and anything. And, as they originally were an online-only phone company (BT Genie), they have a heavy online advertising presence.
Let’s look at what they’re doing.
Perhaps their most famous endorsement was (now Fly Emirates took it over) Arsenal Football Club (left). This came, in 2004, at a nifty price of £6 million. o2 had their logo branded across the home, away and third strips of the club — as well as all the other bits of merchandise available. Lots of exposure, for sure.
And that’s not all. o2 also sponsor ‘The o2‘, probably the country’s best music venue. Kanye West is performing there at the moment. The complex also boasts a load of very nice restaruants, a night club, an artificial beach and a cinema. Not a bad endeavour.
Plus the odd event. The o2 Wireless Festival is one the biggest UK music events in the festival calendar. And the English and Irish rugby teams.
What do all these things have in common? They are, of course, designed to achieve maximum publicity. Arsenal won the Premier League — the most watched sporting competition in the world — with o2 on their shirts. So yes, great publicity for the brand.
But more importantly, they all feature immeasurable success. What does that mean? It means that despite, in theory, all these campaigns being brilliant for the public image of the company, they have no possible way of translating that publicity into results. o2 won’t ever know how many mobile contracts they sold as a result of their sponsorship of Arsenal. They won’t know how many people watched the England rugby team in the World Cup and thought ‘YES!’ you know what, I’m going to get an o2 contract tomorrow.
And the same can, and should, be said about traditional advertising. Does the local DIY shop know how many customers it gains by being in Yellow Pages? No. Does it know how many come to the shop because they heard their ad on the radio? No. All the DIY shop owner cares is that somehow, by doing all that, his shop is making money.
This is why the web isn’t making any money. I’ll stick with o2 for this part of my argument.
If I return to Who Ate All the Pies? there is an advert for o2 on the right hand side. Using the ad, I can sign up to get four free sim cards for pay-as-you-go mobiles. So far, so good.
And, even if I don’t sign up, the o2 brand is prominently promoted on the page — just like it is on an England shirt, or a billboard etc etc.
The BIG DIFFERENCE is that whenever someone clicks on that ad, it’s logged. Whenever someone signs up for a deal, that’s logged too. o2 and Shiny knew exactly who was clicking, when they were clicking, and how long they looked at the site (probably). Hell, they’ll know if the majority of users had IE or Firefox, Windows or Linux, a fat belly or a toned one.
And, judging by the fact that Pies has suffered a premature death, I’m guessing o2, and other advertisers, weren’t happy with the statistics.
What we need to sell is image and exposure, not clicks and statistics.
I can’t click on a Rugby shirt, and nobody is monitoring the amount of ‘eyes’ on a billboard. We don’t know if those massive adverts at Piccadilly Circus actually make more money than they cost to hire — but ones thing for sure, it sure does raise the profile of the companies that are up there.
For the internet to start bringing in money, we need to offer a way for a brand to expose itself. Clicks shouldn’t be the be all and end all. At the moment, websites are boasting of click-through rates or unique page visits. What they should be selling is the reputation of their company as a quality and respected source of news, commentary, humour… whatever. They should be saying that it’s not all about clicks, it’s about your brand being out there. While users may not be clicking to sign-up, they are seeing your logo, your branding… they know you exist. When they think of a mobile phone operator, they will think of o2, as long as you advertise enough.
Let’s register the success and value of online advertising in the same way we treat billboards. It’s all about exposure, not statistics.
If I was an advertiser, I’d be looking into online before anywhere else. Advertising on some of the countries most highly-read sites can cost less than, say, painting one Sky van with a picture of the Simpsons.